How food labeling in California could impact the nation
I split my time between New York City and Los Angeles, so for at least half of this election season I’ve been bombarded with ads related to California's Prop 37, which is essentially a proposal to require food companies to label products that have been made with genetically modified ingredients. A “yes” on Prop 37 would also prevent brands from deeming GM-labeled foods as “natural.”
If you’re not familiar with genetic modification, in a nutshell, it refers to a food that’s had its DNA artificially altered, such as implanting a tomato’s DNA with a pesticide to make it bug-resistant.
Currently more than 50 counties around the globe, including India, all of Europe, Japan, and China require GMO labeling, and polls in the U.S. reveal that more than 90 percent of Americans want to know if a food contains GM ingredients. If Prop 37 passes, the Golden State will be the first in the nation to require a GM identifier.
Opponents say it’s too expensive, while supporters say food companies change their labels all the time so the law won’t raise food costs. Then there’s the issue of whether labeling implies that genetically modified foods are unsafe. I personally believe there isn’t enough research to prove that they are safe, and until we know more about the impact of genetic modification on human health and the health of the planet, I would like the right to know if a food I may buy or recommend contains GM ingredients.
Today the only way to know if a food is GMO-free is if it’s voluntarily labeled as such or if it’s USDA-certified organic. Otherwise, if the manufacturer doesn’t want you to know, you’re left guessing, unlike other facts on food packages, like a product's ingredient list, sodium content, calories, etc.
If the prop passes, it will likely have a ripple effect, including ballot initiatives in other states. In addition, some analysts say food companies will not want to make a different set of products for California, which could mean labels on foods that contain GM ingredients nationwide. In other words, this is a big deal, so there will be a whole lot of eyeballs on the results come November 6.
For more info, including a lively debate from both sides, check out this video.
Another reason Prop 37 has generated so much buzz outside of California is the laundry list of celebrities who have publicly endorsed it, including Rashida Jones, Russell Simmons, Dave Matthews, Alicia Silverstone, and the band Maroon 5. (Watch this video featuring some well-known personalities, including some of the gang from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.)
Please share your thoughts. Do you currently look for USDA-certified organic foods or those verified non-GMO? Do you believe foods with GM ingredients should be mandatorily labeled? Please tweet @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.