Bid to Label Biotech Crops Is Defeated in California
LOS ANGELES — California voters have rejected a closely watched ballot measure that would have made the state the first in the nation to require the labeling of foods made from genetically modified crops. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, the measure was defeated, 47 percent to 53 percent, according to the California secretary of state.
Support for the initiative, once greater than 60 percent according to opinion polls, crumpled in the last month under a barrage of negative advertisements paid for by food and biotechnology companies.
Had it passed, the initiative, called Proposition 37, could have prompted other states to follow California and perhaps given impetus to efforts to require such labeling nationally.
It could also have led to a reduction in the use of genetically modified crops, which now account for more than 80 percent of the corn, soybeans and sugar beets grown in the United States. That is because food companies, fearing that some consumers would shun products labeled genetically engineered, would instead reformulate their products to avoid such ingredients.
With so much at stake, food and biotechnology companies amassed a $46 million war chest, according to Maplight, an organization that tracks campaign contributions. Monsanto, the largest supplier of genetically engineered seeds, contributed $8.1 million and DuPont, another seed supplier, $5.4 million. Kraft Foods and PepsiCo each contributed at least $2 million.
Proponents of the measure, mainly from the organic and natural foods business, raised only $9.2 million and did not mount a meaningful television advertising campaign until a few days before the election.
Backers of Proposition 37 argued that consumers had the right to know what was in their food and pointed out that dozens of other countries, including those in the European Union, require such labeling.
The Food and Drug Administration does not require labeling of a food just because it is genetically modified, saying that there is no material difference between such foods and conventional counterparts. If the genetic engineering were to impart some significant difference — such as changing the nutritional characteristics or introducing an allergen — then that difference would be noted on the label.
The opponents of the measure did not directly attack the notion of consumers’ right to know. Instead, they said Proposition 37 was worded in a way that might lead to red tape, rising food prices and a flurry of lawsuits against food companies and supermarkets.
Backers of Proposition 37 called these claims misleading. “We’re not forcing them to do anything but put two to six words on their label,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, an advocacy group opposed to crop biotechnology.
The big issue in the background is whether such crops are safe. The consensus in the scientific community and among regulators is that the biotech crops now on the market generally are safe. Critics say adequate safety studies have not been done.
The New York Times