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EarthTalk / Genetically modified foods

Published 2:35 pm, Wednesday, November 28, 2012
  • Proposition 37, or the ìCalifornia Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,î defeated by a narrow margin this past Election Day, called on food makers to label foods containing genetically modified ingredients on their packages -- and to not label such foods as ìnatural.î Photo courtesy of Hemera Collection/Thinkstock Photo: Contributed Photo
    Proposition 37, or the ìCalifornia Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,î defeated by a narrow margin this past Election Day, called on food makers to label foods containing genetically modified ingredients on their packages -- and to not label such foods as ìnatural.î Photo courtesy of Hemera Collection/Thinkstock Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Dear EarthTalk: What was Proposition 37 in California that concerns the labeling of genetically modified foods and that was just voted down in that state? -- Peter Tremaine, Euclid, Ohio

Many healthy food advocates were disheartened on Election Day when Californians rejected Proposition 37, which would have required the labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods across the state. GM foods have had genes from other plants or animals inserted into their genetic code to optimize for one or another trait, such as resistance to pests, better taste or longer shelf life, and are controversial because scientists don't know the ramifications of mixing genetic codes on such a widespread scale.

While it was close, those against the so-called "California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act" prevailed, with 53.1 percent of the vote. The proposition called on food manufacturers to label foods containing GM ingredients on the front or back of the packaging with the phrase "partially produced with genetic engineering" -- and not to label or advertise such foods as "natural." Proponents developed the proposition in lieu of federal action requiring labeling of GM foods -- as exists in 50 other countries.

Proponents of the bill raised some $9 million and garnered some 46.9 percent of the vote, indicating that upwards of four million Californians fear the potential effects of GM foods and are in favor of greater transparency on the part of the food industry. But such efforts weren't enough to overcome aggressive marketing by so-called Big Food companies including Monsanto, Coca-Cola, ConAgra, Nestle and Kraft, who poured some $45 million into the "No on 37" campaign.

Backers of the proposition are crying foul. Public health lawyer Michele Simon reports that some of the companies involved in defeating the bill engaged in lying, scare tactics, misrepresentation and various dirty tricks "to protect their profits and keep California voters uninformed about their food choices."

"The No campaign listed four organizations in the official state document mailed to voters as concluding that `biotech foods are safe'," she said. "One of them, the American Council on Science and Health, is a notorious industry front group that only sounds legit. Another, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, actually has no position and complained about being listed ..." The other two groups, the National Academy of Sciences and the World Health Organization, have more nuanced positions ... than just "safe."

Simon also criticizes Big Food for its claims about high food costs, "shakedown lawsuits" and "special interest exemptions" if the law passed: "While each of these claims is easily debunked, being outspent on ad dollars makes it hard to compete, especially when all you can really say is, `that's not true'."

The battle over GM labeling in California may be over for now, but the war rages on nationally. Just Label It, a nonprofit started by Stonyfield Farm magnate Gary Hirshberg, is trying to persuade the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require GM food labeling nationally. Readers can help by signing the campaign's online petition. Beyond that, Just Label It recommends eating more fresh vegetables and unprocessed foods (the vast majority of processed foods in the U.S. contain either GM corn or soy) and looking for the USDA Organic label, which precludes any foods containing GM ingredients.

Contacts: Yes on 37, www.carighttoknow.org; Just Label It, www.justlabelit.org.

Dear EarthTalk: What are "Clean Energy Victory Bonds?" -- Max Blanchard, Wilmington, Del.

Green America, a non-profit membership organization that promotes ethical consumerism, created the "Clean Energy Victory Bonds" concept as a way to give everyday Americans the opportunity to invest in clean energy and related fields in a fashion similar to how the federal government raised billions of dollars for the war effort during World War II over a half century ago. At that time, four out of five American households purchased the original Victory Bonds, raising $185 billion (more than $2 trillion in today's dollars) to support the war effort.

Green America first offered up the new spin on the Victory Bond idea in 2009 as something people on both sides of the political spectrum could get behind. The group has been lobbying federal officials and legislators to consider the benefits ever since. New legislation, the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2012, introduced into the House of Representatives this past August by California Democrat Bob Filner and 10 other co-sponsors, gets Green America a step closer to turning their vision into a reality. More than 40 other non-profit and advocacy groups and green investment institutions have allied with Green America in supporting the legislation as well.

If the bill becomes law, the new Victory Bond program would generate some 1.7 million new jobs in and around the renewable energy sector across the United States, and would extend the imperiled Production Tax Credit and other federal renewable energy incentives for as long as a decade. The beauty of the plan is that it allows everyday Americans to encourage cleaner, greener energy with a minimum investment and a guaranteed return -- without requiring any direct budgetary allocations or expenditures by the federal government. Purchasers will be able to get in on the action for as little as $25, and will get the purchase price back plus interest in 10 years. Furthermore, projects supported through Clean Energy Victory Bonds will create jobs and business revenues that will bring in federal tax dollars while simultaneously reducing health and environmental costs nationwide.

The bill was referred to committee and could potentially come up for a floor vote before year end. Green America is encouraging everyday Americans to call their Congressional representatives and ask them to support H.R. 6275. Another way to get behind the effort now is to pledge to buy the bonds (via cleanenergyvictorybonds.org) after the legislation passes.

Yet another way to help is by spreading awareness about the bill and the good that can come from its passage. "Everyone who hears about this strategy loves it, because the bonds advance goals that both Republicans and Democrats can get behind," reported Green America, urging everyday folks to tweet, blog and talk about the campaign and legislation -- and to post a link to cleanenergyvictorybonds.org on their Facebook pages -- so more conscientious Americans will find out about and get behind the concept.

Contacts: Green America Clean Energy Victory Bonds, www.greenamerica.org/programs/climate/CEVB/; H.R. 6275, www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112hr6275ih/pdf/BILLS-112hr6275ih.pdf.

EarthTalk is by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss of E -- The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to earthtalk@emagazine.com.