Our founder John Roulac featured in the Richmond Confidential, offering his opinions on the state of the union concerning GMO labeling after the defeat of proposition 37.
On a sunbaked October afternoon, as shoppers munched on sliced apple samples and children dug into bags of kettle corn at the Main Street Farmers’ Market at Nevin Plaza, artist Malik Seneferu took a break from daubing paint on canvas to explain why he plans to vote for the state’s Proposition 37, which requires labeling food that is genetically engineered or contains genetically modified organisms.
“People may say that GMOs are safe, but safe and healthy are two different things,” said Seneferu, who likes to eat his food raw.
Andromeda Brooks, who grows organic produce at Happy Lot Farm and Garden, agreed. She believes genetically engineered plants harm the ecosystem, cause disease, and have uncharted ripple effects.
“We are eating genetically engineered plants, and that’s a mutation,” Brooks said. “ So if you are consuming them, you are consuming mutated cells. And if you have insecticides inside the plant, bingo! Pretty soon you are going to going to get super bugs.”
Perhaps no proposition on the state ballot this fall generates as much diversity of opinion as Prop 37. The apparently simple act of labeling food based on what it was made with turns out to be not so simple—and inspires a wide range of responses. Monsanto, Coca Cola and Kraft—together with other major agricultural-biotechnology and food and drink corporations–say the labeling would be impossibly complex and allow lawsuits against producers that didn’t comply. Organic food activists say everyone should have a right to know, and lawyers say the lawsuit fears are ridiculous. The journalist Michael Pollan, a professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, which sponsors Richmond Confidential, says this is a chance to test the political strength of the so-far mainly consumption-oriented food movement. Many scientists say there’s never been anything to suggest GMOs aren’t safe, and that labels would suggest to consumers there’s something wrong with GMOs. Many non-scientists say there hasn’t been enough testing to make that declaration.
And the campaign contributions keep flowing. To date, Monsanto has plunked down $8.1 million—almost a million more than Yes on 37’s entire $7.3 million in contributions—to give No on 37 a massive $44.4 million war chest to convince an information-hungry public that knowing what’s in their food would leave them at a disadvantage.
In Richmond, shoppers at the farmer’s market seemed ready for that information. Viveca Jones, who was selling clothes, jewelry and Obama 2012 stickers, said that once, she didn’t care what she ate. “I’m more interested today,” she said. “And when I know better, I do better.”
Ron Jackson, who manages the market, which requires that produce be grown locally, but does not insist on organic-certification, said he likes his food fresh. “If it ain’t fresh, it ain’t the best, and I don’t want it,” he said.
His wife Phyllis Jackson said she wasn’t sure if Prop. 37’s proposed labeling process would work. “It would be nice to know what’s in our food –if you could trust the people who are labeling.”
Daulet Bey, who was selling Way to Life’s organic granola, said she thought GMO labeling was an excellent idea.
“More than 70 percent of food on the market contains GMOs, but people don’t know about it,” she said.
Katrina Lopez, who was browsing for jewelry, thought people with allergies would benefit from labeling. “People are finding that have more allergies but they don’t know why or to what, so if we have that label, it’s more information,” she said.
This July, the American Medical Association stated, “there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods.”
The AMA went further, stating that, “voluntary labeling is without value unless it is accompanied by focused consumer education.”
But by then Prop 37, billed as a simple right-to-know initiative, had already qualified for California’s November ballot, thanks to the state’s citizen’s initiative process.
Sitting in his company’s headquarters on Cutting Boulevard in Richmond, Nutiva CEO John Roulac said Prop 37’s supporters, which include major players in the organic food industry, believe the passage of the GMO labeling initiative will mark the beginning of a transformation of food production.
Roulac, whose organization has contributed $100,000 to Yes on 37, said the push to require GMO labeling in California began with Pamm Larry, a former midwife and grandmother of four from Chico.
“They came up with this simple message,” Roulac said of the Yes on 37 campaign strategy: “We have the right to know, and we don’t want to be part of this science experiment.”
No on 37 has countered that GMO labeling will result in shakedown lawsuits, higher grocery bills and more state bureaucracy costs.
“Prop. 37 is about the right to sue,” stated California Grocers Association president Ronald K. Fong. “And when it is time to sue, grocery retailers will be at the head of the line.”
So, just how big of a factor are GMO foods in the American diet?