Consumer activists ask Michelle Obama to support GMO labeling law

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 11, 2012- Consumer activists appealed to Michelle Obama today to support a California ballot initiative requiring labels on foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMO).

“I can't think of anyone whose endorsement would matter more to the Prop 37 campaign,” said the Organic Consumers Association political director Alexis Baden-Mayer.


The petition on with more than 200,000 signatures asks the First Lady to talk to her husband about the labeling initiative. Baden-Meyer said President Barack Obama made a 2007 campaign promise to label GMOs, and because some national polls indicated that more than 90% of Americans want GMO foods labeled, supporting the law “can only help Obama get re-elected,” she said during a press conference today. 

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“Michelle Obama's endorsement would make a huge difference,” Baden-Meyer said. “We're being outspent seven to one. By November, we'll probably be outspent 10 to one.”

According to MapLight Voter's Edge for California, which describes itself as a nonpartisan guide to ballot measures, more than $4 million has been raised on the “yes” side and more than $34 million on the “no” side of Prop 37. 

Opponents of the labeling provision claim the law would add hundreds more per year on consumers' grocery bills and impose more than $1 billion in additional costs on California food processors. The estimates of the law's costs vary, depending on the economic analysis and how many factors, including monitoring and certification costs, are incorporated.  

Darrell Rogers, the communications director for the Alliance for Natural Health-USA, said today the costs would be minimal, up to just $2 for the average California household.

“The idea of labeling genetically modified organisms in food products is neither revolutionary nor very difficult,” Rogers said. “Prop 37 is simply an extension of the wishes of consumers.” 

He said the FDA already requires labeling of about 3,000 ingredients and that “Prop 37 is really about a very simple concept.”

The press conference and petition delivery in DC coincided with activists in Oakland, California rallying in support of Prop 37.  If the law passes in November, California will become the first state in the country to require labels on genetically engineered foods.

Baden-Meyer noted that California represents 10 percent of the nation's food market, so companies would likely label their food nationwide if Prop 37 passed. “Not many companies with products that sell nationally would change products sold in California and not in DC,” she said.  

Opponents of Prop 37, including several agricultural organizations, not only fear increased costs, but also increased lawsuits. Prop 37 is filed by James Wheaton, one of the lawyers who helped design Proposition 65, a California law that requires businesses to post notices on possible carcinogens, which includes a list of more than 800 chemicals.

“Much like Wheaton's new food labeling measure, Proposition 65 was sold to voters as a “right to know” measure that requires businesses to post signs in their establishments,” according to the “No of 37” campaign. The campaign states that Wheaton's law firm “has generated more than $3 million from suing California businesses in the last decade under the provisions of this proposition.”

Baden-Meyer and supporters of the Prop 37 law argue that more than 50 other nations have similar laws requiring labels on food with GMO ingredients. 

"Recent studies reinforce what scientists and doctors have been saying for years: genetically modified organisms are not safe, and should not be hidden in 80% of our foods without our knowledge,” she said.         

In a June policy meeting, the American Medical Association recommended mandatory pre-market safety testing of genetically engineered food, but did not recommend labeling of such foods. According to their policy, “AMA believes that as of June 2012, there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods.”

Although the Organic Consumers Association displayed ads comparing the public's current knowledge of GMO food to past, misguided support of cigarettes during today's press conference, Baden-Meyer said Prop 37 does not have to do with one's beliefs on the safety or the benefits of GMO food. “When it comes to prop 37, I don't need to convince you one way or the other,” she said. “It doesn't change the fact that people want to know what we're eating.”



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