This commentary originally appeared as a comment on “Why Prop. 37 Missed This Foodie; Also: Drop the Props!

Hi Jed,

I appreciate your letter and your opinion. I agree that our proposition system in California can be questionable — somewhat of a double-edged sword at best.

I’m an organic farmer and have a degree in biology, so Proposition 37 was pretty close to my heart. It was disheartening to see how no one really understood this really simple measure, not even the “yes” campaign.

As Prop. 37 was written (read the proposition here, it was like 3 pages), it worked within existing label laws to add a few words to an already required ingredients label. The “extensive paperwork” was an affidavit from one’s supplier you had to keep on file. That’s it. But did the “yes” folks clue in to that easy argument? No. Did the “no” folks pounce on the public’s general lack of understanding of our food system and scientific illiteracy? Yep. And did they even scare farmers with the same misinformation? Yes, they did. I watched it happen in my farming community.

When I first read your letter, I wanted to point out this article to you about independent poultry farmers getting the shaft by the erosion of anti-trust laws, consolidation of processors and pressuring of the regulatory agencies by lobbyists.

I’d like to suggest that the same thing has and is happening with GMOs. Just because the regulatory agencies say it’s okay doesn’t make it so. Just because scientific studies have been done doesn’t mean they were good, well-done or unbiased. I’m not claiming conspiracy, but I am claiming bias — the companies using biotech have a lot of capital invested with a lot to lose. Of course they will protect their interests; they want to remain viable businesses. They also have patents — thus if one wants to study GMOs they need to get permission from the companies to study them. As a result, most studies are funded by the companies themselves. The idea being we need more independent and long-term studies that are unbiased either way (the recent study with the rat tumors was poorly done and laughable). In contrast, the scientific studies done on climate change are extensive with lots of independent studies done — some better than others as recent scandals have shown. However, enough studies have been done to start drawing some pretty certain conclusions on climate change (that’s what the scientific method is all about — lots of independent studies with enough repeatable results to start drawing conclusions). Not so with GMOs.

The companies with the patents fear labeling because they fear it will lose them sales. But labeling is important to start tracking the actual effects of GMOs in our food supply — is it safe? Is it causing allergies? Nobody knows since nothing is labeled and no one can track it. One way for the companies to prove that GMOs are safe is to let it be labeled and let this start gathering more long-term, unbiased data on whether this relatively new tech in our food supply.

GMOs have been used with some good success in our pharmaceuticals. I’d like to see the GMOs in our food receive calm scrutiny and oversight — Prop. 37 was a great start and I’m sad to see that due to a targeted misinformation campaign, and misunderstandings on both sides, we’ve missed such a tremendous opportunity to get started.

Debby Zygielbaum lives in Northern California. You can find her on Twitter @walkthevine.

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