On November 6, when all eyes were on the incoming results of the presidential election a fierce battle over genetically modified foods was being fought in California. Proposition 37, one of eleven measures on the November ballot, was a measure that, if passed, would have required manufacturers to label all food products with genetically engineered ingredients. The proposition did not pass; 53% of California residents voted against, and 47% voted for Prop 37. Throughout the process, $44 million were spent on the campaign against Prop 37, while $7.4 million were spent by proponents of the measure.
Arguments for Proposition 37 asserted that customers should have the right to know what is in their food, and to make their own informed decisions about what they believe is safe to consume. Many celebrities and food activists were active supporters of the proposition, including author Michael Pollan, who wrote a piece on the proposition for The New York Times.
Large food and biotech companies, including Monsanto and The Hershey Company, comprised the vast majority of opponents of the proposition. Many supporters of the proposition have highlighted this point, suggesting that these corporations oppose the measure because it could lead to increased regulation of food quality and manufacturing, which could in turn hurt profits. However, prominent scientists have stated that genetically modified foods are some of the safest, most thoroughly-tested food products consumers can buy. The American Association for the Advancement of Science released an official statement on genetically modified foods, stating that, “the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.” They concluded their statement with, “Legally mandating such a label can only serve to mislead and falsely alarm consumers.”
The majority of developed nations around the world (including countries in the European Union, China, India, Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and Chile) already require manufacturers to label genetically modified foods. You can read more about foreign perspectives on the issue in Charlotte Silver’s article for Al Jazeera.