Why we need to care about California’s Proposition 37 here in New Jersey

There’s a proposition on California’s ballot that you need to be aware of. It’s Proposition 37, and if it passes, California will be the first state to require that groceries that contain genetically modified ingredients, also known as GMOs and GEs, be labeled. According to Ballot Pedia, here’s what the bill is about.

  •  Require labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if the food is made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.
  • Prohibit labeling or advertising such food as “natural.”
  • Exempt from this requirement foods that are “certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages.”

This is a “Right to Know” issue. The proposition isn’t banning GMOs or even passing judgment on them. It’s simply giving the public what they want, the knowledge of whether the food they are consuming contains genetically modified ingredients.

Why should you care about what happens in California with this proposition? There’s good reason to believe that if California passes Prop 37, it will have far reaching effects. Carlo Petrini of Slow Food International believes that what happens in California will affect the rest of the country and be heard around the world. He’s said that if Proposition 37 passes, it will influence a global issue.

If you want to understand more about Proposition 37 and why everyone who cares about healthy, natural foods should seriously considering standing with California on the issue, I suggest you read Michael Pollan’s NYT piece, Vote for the Dinner Party. One of his many reasons why this isn’t just a California issue is this.

If Prop 37 passes, and the polls suggest its chances are good, then that debate will most likely go national and a new political dynamic will be set in motion.

There are 50 countries that already have mandatory GMO labeling. In the United States, polls show that about 90 percent of the public are in favor of it, yet there is little national debate on the government level of the public level. It’s an issue that both democrats and republicans can agree on. Yet, the large chemical companies lobby both our state and federal governments so vehemently because they don’t want mandatory GMO labeling (they’d rather the public be kept  in the dark so their profits aren’t affected) , that our elected officials ignore what 90 percent of their constituents want.

What can we here in New Jersey do about the outcome of Proposition 37? We can stand behind California by contacting our friends and family who live in California and will be voting next Tuesday. We can ask them what they know about the proposition. We can ask them how they plan on voting.

I don’t write that last sentence lightly. My father ingrained in me that no one has the right to ask you how you will vote. In my home, when the pollsters would call, they’d get an earful from my dad, including a loud bang when he’d hang up the phone. But this issue is so important to the entire country, and the only way those outside of California can have any influence over it is to educate their friends and family who can vote on the issue.

If you are able to talk to someone in California about it,  and they don’t know how they stand yet, tell them this. The chemical companies that are fighting against the public’s right to know what is in their food say there is “no evidence of harm” from GMOs. But “no evidence of harm” is not the same as “evidence of no harm.” We simply don’t know the long-range effects of GMOs in our food. Until it’s known whether they are harmful or not, shouldn’t the public have the ability to make informed decisions about what foods they eat? It really comes down to that.

It might help to show them this video, too.

Please, take a few minutes this weekend to educate yourself on Proposition 37 and GMOs. Then take a few more minutes to educate your friends and family in California. I heard earlier this week that polls show that the passage of this proposition is not guaranteed. The chemical companies are spending millions of dollars on ads in California to try to confuse voters. But the issue isn’t confusing. We have a right to know, and California can help start the country on the path of knowing.

More resources:

Image:  Quinn Dombrowski/flickr

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