Survey: Biologists Say 'No' on GMO Labels Proposition 37

Patch contacted eight biologists at California universities to get their opinion on Proposition 37. Seven of the eight urged a 'no' vote on the measure.

A group of eight biology professors from throughout the site asked to weigh in on the state proposition that would label genetically modified food overwhelmingly urged a 'no' vote for the measure.

Proposition 37, which is on the ballot on Tuesday, would make California the first state in the union to require that certain plant or animal products sold be labeled if its genetic material has been modified. The law would also make it illegal for food companies to label genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, as “natural.”

To get a scientific perspective on the issue, Patch reached out with an email survey to more than 25 professors across the state with a background in biology or genetics to ask them how they would suggest Californians vote.  Of the eight professors who responded, seven told Patch they would urge a 'no' vote.

Neelima Sinha, a professor of plant biology at the University of California, Davis wrote that she was suggesting a 'no' vote because scientific research has not shown GMOs are unsafe to consume.

"GM food is no more safe or unsafe than anything else we eat," Sinha wrote in an email. "In fact most outbreaks of food poisoning have been from non-GM but poorly stored or treated food.  Much of what we consume is already GM – all cheeses, many drugs."

Alan McHughen, a plant biotechnologist and professor at the University of California, Riverside who has written extensively on GMO food issues and been involved in government panels on how to regulate them, suggested that the measure will impose more costs on low-income citizens.

"There’s no question Prop 37 will cost a lot of money, and only serve the purpose of satisfying the curiosity of a few," McHughen wrote. "Why should poor people pay more for food when they don’t care about the label?  It’s all about the majority paying more for food to satisfy the curiosity of the 1%"

However, De Anza College biologist Judy Cuff-Alvarado, the lone respondent to urge a 'yes' vote, said she does not buy the argument that the measure will raise the cost of food.

"Consumers need to know what they are eating and have informed choice," Cuff-Alvarado wrote. "I do not believe the argument that this is going to drive prices up dramatically.  Just look at the European model.  They're doing fine."

According to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office analysis, since GMOs entered the U.S. market in 1996, a vast majority of corn and soybean grown in the United States is genetically modified. According to some estimates, 40 percent to 70 percent of food found in grocery stores is genetically engineered.

A September USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found that more than 60 percent of Californians support Prop. 37.


Prop. 37: Should Genetically Modified Foods Be Denoted in Labels?

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a link to the publishing record of one of the biologists quoted above.

Jesse Brown November 05, 2012 at 11:18 PM
All scientific "breakthroughs" in the ingestible area should be tested by and on the people who find or invent them as well as the government agency that OK's them for a period of 10 years before forcing on the public. Personally I use honey as a sweetener and margarine for rat poison. I'm still gagging from dioxin from 1965 and the EPA has denied me of my Primatene and says I should go to a prescription drug. Thanks EPA for practicing medicine without a license. If I want GMO's in my food I will ask for them at my local Rite Aid /CVS/Wall-greens.
Jesse Brown November 05, 2012 at 11:18 PM
George L. November 05, 2012 at 11:19 PM
And yet Linn has offered no scientific evidence at all either. 0 + 0 = 0 Linn
George L. November 05, 2012 at 11:23 PM
And yet you present none of your own. I stated that GMO corn, wheat and soy is in most of our packaged foods and feeds a lot of our livestock. Yet you took no issue with that? Why? Because its true? You only seem to be questioning those that have are presenting an opinion. Here is a fact, soda is made with HFCS, which is made from corn, which is more likely than not made from GMO corn. Follow the trail yet or do you need a guide?
Richard Christy November 05, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Linn, you just stated as fact that the rats are more prone to tumors and that it's junk science. Where did you get this information? Sometimes, thinking things through logically is better than accepting information from some source that is likely biased. When I hear 'junk science', I hear a term often used by talk show hosts and people who just don't want to believe anything from science. Are you sure that you have thought this through for yourself? What scientific method do you prescribe to that says that anything genetically modified can't be harmful to you?
George L. November 05, 2012 at 11:27 PM
Thanks for the article Tom, hopefully Linn reads it as this person seems ill informed and wants "facts". Linn is noticeably absent from your comment. Probably because I said/you said doesn't work on facts. =)
Shawna Dawson November 05, 2012 at 11:31 PM
Who are these "biologists" who have said no on 37? Sorry, but I find it incredibly irresponsible and misleading that you've posted this short sided half of the debate without including all of the sound arguments -- especially those from other scientists, geneticists and peer reviewed studies -- that are all in favor of a YES on 37 vote. Passing this measure will result in no cost to consumers; simply the right to have enough information to choose. There's a reason GMO foods are required to be labeled (and in many cases, flat out illegal) in 61 other countries, including the EU, UK, Japan, China, India and Russia... their safety is unknown and dubious at best.
Dave Skibinski November 05, 2012 at 11:42 PM
I already voted NO on this initiative. While I do believe the consumer has a right to know if a product has been modified from its natural state, I was disappointed that not all products were included in the law. I also think their should be an agreed upon label, or at least an entity to define a standard label, comparable to tobacco products. This initiative in my opinion was poorly written / gerrymandered due to some self-interests, and therefore I voted no.
Shawna Dawson November 05, 2012 at 11:49 PM
This is a popular (but entirely inaccurate) argument against Prop 37. Article 2 Section 8 (D) of the California Constitution stipulates that ballot initiatives cannot be about multiple subjects. In the case of Prop 37, any first generation plant, animal, insect, etc that had its DNA genetically altered or engineered will be labeled vs second generation GMO, the by-products of an animal that ate something that was genetically engineered: meat, eggs, milk, etc. Labeling of those products would require a secondary ballot initiative. It's so frustrating to see so many people voting based on misinformation from a very well funded misinformation campaign. Monsanto and friends are spending $1mil a day to ensure you don't know enough to make an informed decision. Read up and educate yourself and then vote!
Bruce Knoles November 06, 2012 at 07:09 AM
Tobacco was "safe" as long as possible as well Linn, poor argument on your part.
Richard LaBrie November 06, 2012 at 03:02 PM
The trend of at least the last decade has been for consumers to read labels and begin paying attention to the differences between ingredients, organic and natural status, and even the food source of the animals which provide the meat. This is progress. Even if there is debate on the merits of whether one ingredient or status is better than the other, the debate is OURS TO HAVE and we need labeling to continue it. The same protests happened when organic labeling was proposed. There always seems to be protest when progress is pushed. I do not think Monsanto has my best interest at heart. I think they will do the minimum that regulations allow, which is why regulations exist - to protect those of us who do not work for or in that industry (like many food biologists).
Lisa Verlo November 06, 2012 at 03:16 PM
I would like to know what I would be consuming and will certainly vote YES on Prop 37! It is sad that this issue even has to be voted on. We would all be more informed and all the wiser if everything we consumed was labeled accurately. It is a shame that many Americans don't demand it and don't seem to care. Propaganda is printed on labels at no extra cost. Why not the truth?!
MD November 06, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Linn, then let's have you as our local tester for the safety of GMO foods since you are such a staunch defender, and we'll see how well you are doing 10 years from now. The cost of labeling in regards to prop 37 is completely a red herring and we all know it. It should be illegal to sell a food product that isn't 100% transparent as to it's ingredients and GMO status. It's people like you who are what's wrong with this country. You provide no facts or real evidence whatsoever to backup your ridiculous claims yet purport that you know what you are talking about. Perhaps you're working in the social media department of Monsanto or an affiliate.
MD November 06, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Exactly Shawna - well stated!
Baird Tarr November 06, 2012 at 03:45 PM
I wonder what kind of grant monies or funding those biologists have received from Monsanto or other ag business? Information is power. There notion that Monsanto is so heavily involved into defeating this issue certainly raises eyebrows.
Mr. T. Adams November 06, 2012 at 06:01 PM
We have been eating genetically engineered foods for decades, if not centuries. Corn is a prime example. Corn is a grass, or at least, it was. However, we have been calling these foods "domesticated." When you cross-breed a plant, it becomes genetically engineered. So, what's the difference between a GMO and domestically modified food? One other note. How is changing a package label going to cost consumers millions of dollars? In this computerized era, I can change a label as easily as I can edit this post. The entire proposition is bogus, no matter how you look at it.
Jesse Brown November 06, 2012 at 06:16 PM
You may be right.
Carlos C November 06, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Just Google or YouTube search the term "genetically modified food" and spend 5 minutes looking into it. Once you know what it is you will become outraged that this garbage was slipped into the backdoor while you weren't looking. Yes on 37.
Ivan G November 06, 2012 at 10:15 PM
It's about paranoia.
Ivan G November 06, 2012 at 10:16 PM
SOME scientists support it.
Ivan G November 06, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Grow your own. Or buy only products that are labeled that there is no GMO content.
Ivan G November 06, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Because the products they engineer have to be safe. It's why you would ask an architect or civil engineer whether a building is safe, rather than ask a politician.
Ivan G November 06, 2012 at 10:20 PM
That study was roundly criticized as BS.
Ivan G November 06, 2012 at 10:25 PM
If Prop 37 passes, you still won't know what you are consuming. Are all GMOs equivalent?
navigio November 06, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Actually, thats only a half-good analogy. Truth is, we have civil engineers because architects cant determine whether a building is safe. Anyway, asking a biologist this question is more like asking the guy running the saw at the lumber mill whether a building is safe than asking a civil engineer.
Ivan G November 06, 2012 at 10:33 PM
If people wanted foods that were free of GMOs, then manufacturers and retailers would label them as such, in order to be able to charge more.
Lorraine Pozniak November 06, 2012 at 10:44 PM
Poor people buy whatever they can afford to eat to survive. I've ALREADY SEEN food labeled as containing GMOs, and it's the kind of stuff you find at 99 cents stores. Speaking of paranoia, next they'll be trying to feed us human remains...SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!!!!!
Ivan G November 06, 2012 at 10:47 PM
How California’s GMO Labeling Law Could Limit Your Food Choices and Hurt the Poor http://www.freakonomics.com/2012/06/22/how-california%E2%80%99s-gmo-labeling-law-could-limit-your-food-choices-and-hurt-the-poor/
Carlos C November 06, 2012 at 10:58 PM
How would they know if they were GMO in the first place if they're not labeled? People can't demand something that they know nothing about. Why do 61 countries already have labeling and not us? There's been a complete blackout for years until now. The cat is out of the bag now and MonSatan is panicking. If we don't win this time, at least a whole lot more people know about this poison-food. The number of enlightened citizens will continue to grow and we'll know if our food is GMO just like they do in the EU, China (China!!!? WTH) and Russia (yes Russia, wow) sooner or later.
ROBERT E. FISHBACK December 10, 2012 at 11:05 PM
OK..My vote for most intelligent post goes to navigio who said; "The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress" I bet Morsi believes that ....As for GMO.....tastes Ok, but now my hemorhoids glow in the dark.


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