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Survey: Biologists Say 'No' to Prop. 37's GMO Labels

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.

Survey: Biologists Say 'No' to Prop. 37's GMO Labels


A group of eight biology professors from throughout California who were 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 their 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 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."

Backed by more than $44 million from food giants like Monsanto, DuPoint, PepsiCo, General Mills and Kellogg, Prop. 37's opponents have touted that perspective in recent TV ads, noting that the  American Medical Association has said there is "no scientific justification" for labeling genetically engineered food.

The AMA, which represents the nation's doctors, calls for greater "availability of unbiased information and research activities on bioengineered foods." The organization also has stated that the current voluntary system for testing genetically engineered food before it hits store shelves should be mandatory.

But even among doctors and biologists, the debate about Prop. 37 has veered towards the alleged costs associated with the proposition's additional labeling requirements rather than the reasons why the labeling is needed or not. 

In his comments to Patch, Alan McHughen, a plant biotechnologist and professor at the University of California, Riverside, focused on the possible imposition of 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 percent."

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.

GMO labeling is mandatory is almost 50 countries in the world.

While Patch's sampling of biology professors was against Prop. 37, the Yes on 37 has garnered the support of a number of celebrities, including Danny DeVito, Dave Matthews and Bill Maher,

"If there's nothing wrong with GMOs, why not put it on the label?" Matthews says in the attached video, emphasizing, "Made with GMOs!"

Whole Foods is backing Prop. 37 by offering "Yes on 37" buttons and bumper stickers in all of its stores. The grocery chain is also running its own social media and radio campaign to encourage voters to approve the measure. 

To date, it hasn't been enough to sway public opinion. A recent poll by the California Business Roundtable and Pepperdine University School of Public Policy  revealed 39.1 percent of likely California voters support the Prop. 37, according to the LA Times. The poll also found that 50.5 percent oppose the labeling and 10.5 percent are undecided. 

What's your reaction? Are you going to vote for Prop. 37? 

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