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Prop 37; Yay or Nay?

November 5, 2012
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Prop 37 Your Right to Know

“Maybe” is the most un-sexy word in the English language. Everyone loves the absolute.

The chart-topper “Call Me Maybe” might be cute and fun, but “yes” and “no” are music to a crowd’s ears because they evoke passion, determination, and most importantly, righteousness.

Every time you say “I dunno” there’s a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.

Also, people lose interest.

Everybody fancies themselves an independent thinker — just as everyone thinks their skills as a driver are better than average. However, the fact of the matter is that we like to agree with people we find agreeable, and support notions that fit our world view because uncovering the truth is hard. That’s exactly the challenge faced by voters in California.

Prop 37 is a ballot initiative that would require genetically modified foods to be labeled by food producers. Despite the overwhelming confidence expressed by some of its supporters, this is not a no-brainer. I think it’s more a case of potato-potahto; and I say we call the whole thing off.

The primary argument made by Michael PollanMark Bittman, and others is that people have a “right to know” what’s in their food. And on the surface that doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable; however, as Keith Kloor aptly explains:

The real message environmentalists and foodies are sending by coalescing in support of Proposition 37 is a dangerous one—and not one that will help the food movement in the long run. That’s because Proposition 37 is predicated on junk science and blind, simplistic mistrust of multinational corporations. If the food movement continues down this road, it will soon be as politically irrelevant as the once-promising environmental movement is now.

This is where the conversation usually strays into externalities. Since there’s no scientific evidence to support the claim that GM foods cause direct harm to humans, supporters of the proposition will begin to cite a litany of offenses that have more to do with the industry as a whole than GMOs specifically. Rachael Ludwick frames it perfectly:

GM fears are often a proxy for other concerns: farmers beholden to large agribusiness, scary chemicals in our food and environment, and so on. We should create labels to provide information about the underlying concerns. If consumers are worried about pesticides and fertilizers, then provide a way to choose products that were produced in less harmful ways. If a consumer cares about worker or farmer rights, then provide labels that tell them how labor was treated in production. GM labels are a very poor substitute for real information about our agricultural systems.

A label, without scientific understanding, will not promote transparency — it will simply enable opinion. The standards by which we measure our credibility should not be sacrificed for short-term gain, and tactics used on each side of the debate underscore the fact that California’s ballot initiative is more about politics than science. There’s plenty wrong with our food system and these issues deserve a direct and honest response. We can do better than Prop 37.

This grassroots food movement has been led by innovators and pleasure-seekers from the very beginning: farmers who tinker with diversity rather than mono-cropping, moms and chefs who demand better-than-bland tomatoes, and entrepreneurs who construct new ways to root sustainable food systems within our economy. My objectives, dear reader, are the same as yours; however, I think there’s a better way to get the end result.

What do you think? Is this crazy? Here’s my address. Tell me maybe.

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  • Kelly reid

    Put some easy sharing buttons on here so its simple for me to push thismto Facebook, etc.

  • leslie

    Well, there’s no science to support that pink slime causes any ill health effects either, but look what truth in labelling did in that case. McDonald’s switched their sourcing so fast, it took my breath away. People have all sorts of reasons underlying their food choices, and not all of them are rational. That doesn’t mean that we want Big Food deciding what we need to know about how they produce their food or source their ingredients. Ultimately, the only way the food makers will gain trust is by becoming transparent. Otherwise the motivated activists will do the digging for them, and force transparancy through the use of social media.

    • Todd Jones

      I understand the political motives for proposing such a bill but there’s a fine line between Prop 37 and tyranny of the majority. There’s no evidence to suggest that GM foods cause direct harm to consumers so why should they be labeled? Simply saying that people have a “right to know” is a slippery slope. I’m all for transparency but there are plenty of other problems with our food system that are much more deserving of our attention. Prop 37 is a case of putting the cart before the horse.

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