Home > Food and Food Safety, State Government, State Regulations > Another Perspective on Prop 37

Another Perspective on Prop 37

The following is a guest post from a friend and former student at Etna High School, Charles Peckham.

Suffice to say that my life and my politics make me the sort of person whom those opposed to genetically modified foods would presume to be playing for their team.

And, my concern with Prop. 37 is that the subject of genetically modified foods is misrepresented, not that Prop. 37 is wrong wrong wrong. There is no scientific evidence to support that genetically engineered foods have negative health effects, and admittedly, the sort of evidence that would be necessary to show long-term health effects of food are difficult to obtain. Statistical data is prone to being legitimized by outside factors, and laboratory experiments conducted on animals have limited utility, since the lifespan of most lab animals is different to the lifespan of humans. Furthermore, the field of genetic engineering is relatively new. By contrast, statistical data to support the theory that excessive alcohol consumption leads to long-term health problems is quite solid, because booze has been around forever, so we’ve had sufficient time and sufficient examples. A quick Googling says that genetic engineering has been around since the early 1970’s. That means science has to determine what will happen to people fifty years from now if they use technology that hasn’t even been around for fifty years. It’s not an easy thing to do.

Regardless, it’s up to science to determine what the health effects of genetically modified food are. Admittedly, genetic engineering seems like a bad idea. There’s a perhaps inherent fear of tampering with genetic material. Plenty of black and white mad scientist movies have played on this fear, and even as recently as Jurassic Park (1993), frog DNA was combined with Tyrannosaurus DNA, with disastrous results (well, disastrous for the people the T. rex ate, at least). But the goal of science is to reach beyond these inherent presumptions. As Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it, ‘(Humans) are poor data taking devices. That’s why we have such a thing as science, because we have machines that don’t care which side of the bed they woke up (on) in the morning, don’t care what they said to their spouse that day, don’t care whether they had their morning caffeine. They’ll get the data right.’ The same applies for how aesthetically troubling the subject matter is. Science gives us a system by which we can determine how bad something really is, so we needn’t rely on how bad something seems.

I’ve already voted, and I admit I voted yes on Prop. 37. If I had to do it again, I’m not sure which way I would go. It’s not because I think genetically modified food is unhealthy, that remains to be shown, and it’s not because I have faith in the corporate food industry to have my best interests in mind. With Prop. 37, it’s a question of information. Prop. 37 is asking for food to inform consumers what’s inside, and I think it’s both responsible and personally preferable to have more information rather than less, even if the information is irrelevant.

And, to the best of our knowledge, information about genetic modification is irrelevant to the health of consumers. The only problem is that labeling genetically modified foods is misleading information. It plays into previously mentioned apprehensions about eating food with an otherworldly quality, and this stands to detriment the food industry infrastructure for a silly reason. In effect, the panic over genetically modified foods is (until science shows otherwise) making an issue out of a non-issue. It’s giving people just enough information to confirm their knee-jerk reaction, and doesn’t give them the full picture. The issue is unpleasantly similar to the dihydrogen monoxide hoax, in which propaganda is distributed about a chemical that’s being sold over the counter at your local grocery store named ‘dihydrogen monoxide” (AKA water). The propaganda is full of startling facts about what would happen if, for example, dihydrogen monoxide were to enter one’s lungs, and how dihydrogen monoxide is the primary chemical in acid rain. It’s a good gag. If I hadn’t been told it was a practical joke when I first saw it, I might very well have fallen for it myself.

So the real question is, what is the government’s responsibility when there’s a strong movement turning a non-issue into an issue? Part of me says, if the people want labels, let them have labels. Still, to really get to the bottom of this issue, it would behoove both government and anti-genetic engineering activists to come up with sufficient funding to determine any possible health issues. It’s pointless to stir up more panic over the issue before even demonstrating the issue is there. It would be nice if we could have put the horse before the cart on this one.

  1. November 4, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    I think you hit the nail on the head. It is about disclosure. The fact that companies don’t want their products labeled shows concern. The thing is we do have a lot of evidence that GMO foods are harmful as well as chemicals in our food. The FDA continues to not protect Americans by putting out products based on the seller’s research instead of 3rd party research. Look at the drug companies. They put drugs into the market then a year later there are ads saying if you took xyz and had this and that then call the law offices of abc. If a GMO diet gives rats tumors then I think it is safe to say that they aren’t good for humans.

  2. commonsenseagriculture
    November 4, 2012 at 9:02 PM


    Thank you for your thoughts. I’m with you on labeling ingredients that are proven harmful. However, when it comes to GMO’s, with all due respect, none of the “studies” that have “resulted” in harm have been duplicated to show the same results. I realize that this is a very passionate topic for some people, but let us not throw the scientific method out the window for the sake of fear or passion. Respectfully, if, in the 20+ years GMO’s have been around, there had been one study that could have been duplicated two, three, or four times, with the same results, then I might likely be more inclined to support prop 32…worded much better of course 🙂

    Once again, I really do appreciate your commenting and sincerely do not mean to insult or offend you with my response.

  3. November 5, 2012 at 7:53 AM

    Personally, I am all for knowing what is in our food … it will show that we have been eating GMOs for decades with no ill effects, in more food items than what we even imagine. Where I fall on the opposition to the labeling is the REASON that this movement has started … that somehow GMO food is inherently bad and our food resources must be divided into GOOD and BAD without the science to back up the claim. If we had a positive discussion on food labeling that did not include the evil food processor rhetoric then it might be a productive step. One thing not mentioned here is that Prop. 37 opens up farmers, processors, and grocers to shake-down lawsuits when no harm has to be proven before filing a claim … this is the worst part of our society where class actions are bringing down the research and development we need to sustain our lives. Present me with a proposition that labels food for the right reasons, without the lawsuits, and I will vote for it.

    • November 7, 2012 at 9:16 AM

      I disagree with ‘no ill effects’. Food allergies is beyond skyrocketing, just to name one. That being said, my position is not really about the “is it safe or not safe” debate. It is not a debate. Eating Round-Up is never going to be safe. End of discussion

  4. November 7, 2012 at 9:21 AM

    Farmers that grow crops and spray them with Round-Up know what they are doing. Unfortunately greed and ignorance allows these people to continue doing this year after year like it is no big deal. Well, it is a big deal. Round-Up does not wash off, and Bt Toxin in the corn is part of the corn so it also is not removed during processing. I am shocked everyday that farmers think the rest of America knows what they are doing. I found out earlier this year and I am horrified! I tell people EVERYDAY what is going on and the gaping mouth stares I get are the proof in the pudding guys. The average person here in the US has no idea our food is SOOO toxic. Stop growing the crap.

  5. November 30, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    I’m a big proponent of the precautionary principle which states that the burden of proof lies on those proposing to take an action that the action is NOT harmful. As opposed to what you’re advocating, which is that these practices should be allowed until proven harmful. Despite how you’ve painted the science and safety of GMO foods as perfectly safe, I’m just not convinced. I think you’re right that there is some unfounded, knee-jerk hysteria out there, but there are also many legitimate scientists and studies which question the long-term safety of GMOs.

    That being said, there are many reasons other than health safety for not wanting to buy and support GMO foods. Moral opposition to intellectual property claims on forms of life, opposition to control of the seed/food supply by a few giant corporations, the danger of cross-contamination with other crops, and the loss of biodiversity through the propagation of GMO technology. Those are just a few examples of why people may be against GMOs. Who are we to say how consumers can and cannot make their choices? People have a right to know where their food comes from. Labeling laws are about enabling people to make those decisions.

    All that being said, I think the anti-GMO people will be better off by pursing “GMO Free” labels rather than battling billion dollar corporations to get them to label their products. It’s a more positive approach to educating the public and allowing people to make choices about what they’re eating.

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