Thursday, October 11, 2012

For our right to know what we put in our mouths


You might not have noticed if you get your slant on our state politics here, but there are LOTS (11!) of propositions confronting California voters this November. The one I'm working on, Prop. 34 to replace the death penalty, is not the one that has attracted the most spending. Aside from the one attacking unions' ability to participate in politics (Prop. 32-vote NO!) and a couple of tax measures, the big locus of campaign money, campaign ads, and campaign swag is Prop. 37. A coalition of organic farmers, businesses, and foodies think we ought to have the right to know which of our foods are genetically engineered. Hence we're voting on a labeling law.

Nutrition guru Michael Pollan explains what the hotly contested campaign is really about:

Americans have been eating genetically engineered food for 18 years, and as supporters of the technology are quick to point out, we don’t seem to be dropping like flies. But they miss the point. The fight over labeling G.M. food is not foremost about food safety or environmental harm, legitimate though these questions are. The fight is about the power of Big Food. Monsanto has become the symbol of everything people dislike about industrial agriculture: corporate control of the regulatory process; lack of transparency (for consumers) and lack of choice (for farmers); an intensifying rain of pesticides on ever-expanding monocultures; and the monopolization of seeds, which is to say, of the genetic resources on which all of humanity depends.

Corporate cash is pouring in to defeat the labeling requirement.

Proponents of the measure to label genetically modified food, Proposition 37, have raised $4.4 million, but spent all but $754,000 with a month to go in a campaign against a juggernaut. Opponents have raised $34.3 million and have half -- $17.1 million -- remaining to spend. Agriculture giant Monsanto has poured in $7.2 million to defeat the measure

Mercury News

Dupont, Dow, Pepsi and Coke are also major donors to the "no" side. We're going to be wallowing in TV ads, many misleading at best, against the measure.

A segment of the opposition that is a little less visible than the food corporations is the big grocery interests. Perhaps opposition from Safeway and Lucky supermarkets accounts for the fact that most all the establishment media has jumped in with the NO side: after all, supermarket pitches are some of the few forms of local advertising still available to newspapers.

Prop. 37 started out polling overwhelmingly positively; most of us want the chance to know what we are eating, even if we aren't likely to pay much attention. The ad blitz will try to turn us around.

I'm agnostic on whether genetically engineered food is poisoning us, but I support this proposition. GMOs may not be killing us, but these big food corporations can't be trusted to weigh our well-being against their profits. Hence the need for a labeling law and generally to knock industrial food purveyors down a peg.

These politically opinionated plastic figures live in the windows of a San Francisco store selling organic ice cream.

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