Yesterday’s re-election of Barack Obama was the big news story, but tucked in amongst all the election fan fair and references to Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” was news of several bills being passed or defeated. Of particular note to agriculture was Prop 37, a Californian bill that would require labeling of products that “may contain” ingredients grown from crops that were genetically modified.
Proponents of the bill list their “right to know” what’s in their food as the reason for the law. Those against the bill say it’s deeply flawed as it’s written and would cost taxpayers and farmers thousands if not millions in lawsuits, lost business and increased grocery bills. Those against the bill argued that simply listing existing products as GMO-free achieves the same thing without legislation. As an example of how flawed the bill was, Tim Sheely writes how pistachios on his farm would not be allowed to use the term “naturally opened” because the bill redefines the term “natural.”
The defeat (though still unofficial) of Prop 37 was a win for agriculture and for consumers, as the bill was poorly worded and would have caused undue financial stress and strain on the industry. But as Willie Vogt of Farm Futures writes in this post, this is not the last we’ve seen of demands of mandatory GMO labeling. The bill was well supported in urban centres; consumers’ negative perception of genetically modified crops, however misguided, and their appetite to know what’s in their food is only increasing. The agriculture industry needs to either change these perceptions or push for fair labeling, and neither is an easy task.