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Prop 37 Could Set National Tone On Labeling Genetically Modified Food

Aired 10/17/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Eric Larson, executive director, San Diego Farm Bureau

Andrew Kimbrell, executive director, Center for Food Safety

Kenneth Klein, professor, California Western School of Law


Aired 10/17/12 on KPBS News.

Proposition 37 is attracting national attention because of the message it could send about our food. The measure would make California the first state in the U.S. to require labeling for genetically modified food.

Jimbo Someck is holding what might look like an ordinary bag of potato chips. But the owner of Jimbo’s Naturally grocery stores says it isn’t.

“As you can see on the front of this bag, there is that non-GMO project label,” he says, pointing to the label.

Someck is a supporter of Proposition 37, the state initiative that would require labels for food made from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. It would also prevent GMO food from carrying labels calling it “natural.”

GMO food is made from plants with DNA that was manipulated in a laboratory—for example, implanting a potato’s DNA with a pesticide to make it naturally resistant to bugs. About 70 percent of processed grocery store food in the U.S. contains GMO ingredients, according to the Center for Food Safety. And supporters like Someck say consumers have a right to know if their food comes from these GMO crops.

"We know the nutrients, we know the ingredients," Someck said. "Why don’t we have the right to know if something is made from GMOs? I think it’s only right that we have this.”

Proposition 37 is attracting national attention because of the message it could send about our food. The measure would make California the first state in the U.S. to require labeling for genetically modified food.

Jimbo Someck, the owner of Jimbo's Naturally grocery stores, explains the non...
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Above: Jimbo Someck, the owner of Jimbo's Naturally grocery stores, explains the non-GMO labeling he uses in his store.

The question of whether GMO food should be labeled went before the Food and Drug Administration in 1992, when the agency decided the then-new genetically modified crops were similar enough to other crops that they did not need to be regulated or labeled. Some GMO skeptics point out this policy was co-written by a lawyer who used to work with Monsanto, a major producer of GMO seeds.

So while the idea of eating a potato that has pesticide DNA might sound scary, the FDA and many scientists have said GMO food is safe.

Steven Briggs, a biology professor at UC San Diego, studies plant diseases. He said many foods produced from GMO crops do not actually contain genetically modified ingredients. For example, he said sugar is so processed that there’s no chemical difference between sugar made from GMO sugar beets and sugar made from organic sugar beets.

Steven Briggs, a biology professor at UC San Diego, in his lab.
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Above: Steven Briggs, a biology professor at UC San Diego, in his lab.

"You can do atomic level analysis and sucrose is sucrose," Briggs said. "It doesn’t matter how you made it. It’s a defined chemical.

"Under Prop 37, exactly the same chemically indistinguishable sugar made from a genetically engineered sugar beet would have to be labeled, but sugar from any other non-genetically engineered source wouldn’t be labeled. So this is totally misleading to indicate that somehow they’re different when we know they’re exactly the same."

A French study released in September riled both the "Yes" and "No" campaigns with its finding that rats fed GMO corn developed tumors and liver and kidney problems. But Briggs said most in the scientific community agree the study has multiple problems, including its research methods and statistical analysis.

“We all agree it’s a very flawed study and it would not have been published in most journals," he said. "I think it’s going to be a really interesting story if we ever learn about it, about how this made it through the peer review process.”

Even if that study is discredited, the fact that research on GMO food is still evolving feeds into Proposition 37 supporters’ concerns.

“There’s definitely not been enough testing on it to show there’s no risk at all, and I certainly don’t want, let alone me, my kids to be a science experiment," Someck said.

Because the proposition could set a precedent in the national food industry, donations are piling up from GMO seed-makers like Monsanto and DOW. So far, the "No" campaign has raised $34.5 million, while the "Yes" side has just over $4 million. The biggest donor to the "No" side is Monsanto, which has given more than $7 million, but food makers like Pepsico, Coca Cola, Nestle and General Mills have also made large donations.

The "No" campaign is running TV commercials arguing the measure contains too many special exemptions, will increase food costs and hurt small businesses and farmers.

“The people who are least able to pay are going to be forced to pay more,” Ted Sheely, who operates Ted D. Sheely Farms, says in one ad.

Another ad says the proposition is confusing, citing examples like soy milk being labeled while regular milk isn't. But supporters of the measure say the distinction is clear: soy milk comes from a plant, regular milk doesn't.

Opponents also argue against the measure because of cost. The state’s legislative analyst says the measure would cost the state anywhere between a few thousand dollars to over $1 million each year to pay for more monitoring of food labels.

Most major newspapers in California recommend a “no” vote on the measure, except The North County Times, which endorsed a “yes” vote. But voters may not be listening: the latest poll from The Los Angeles Times shows 48 percent of voters support labeling genetically modified food.

The "Yes" side also notes that more than 60 countries, including Japan, Russia, China and most in Europe, require labels for genetically modified food.

But biologist Briggs said if the measure passes, GMO labeling will unnecessarily scare consumers.

David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps in Escondido.
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Above: David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps in Escondido.

"A consumer who’s out there making their purchasing decisions, they see a warning label," he said. "Because our current labels have integrity, they’re going to think that warning label also means something, but we know it doesn’t. It tells you nothing about the composition of the food."

Even if there is nothing harmful about GMO food, some supporters say there are other reasons to not want to buy it.

David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps in Escondido, said his company has given more than $360,000 to support Prop 37, even though the measure would not impact his business.

For Bronner, it’s not just about the food. He says genetic engineering is an issue of justice.

“It’s basically been the chemical industry buying up the seed industry and engineering resistance to their toxic herbicide that are getting dumped more and more on our food," he said. "So this is what we need to know. We need to know about this. People who don’t agree, fine, be proud of it, say, 'hey, it’s genetically engineered.' You’re proud of that, people should know. So what are you afraid of?”

Bronner and Someck said the fight to pass Proposition 37 is a grassroots movement, and they are waiting to see whether their efforts pay off.

"It’s the David vs. Goliath, it’s the people vs. the dollars, and it’s going to be interesting to see how it plays itself out," Someck said.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | October 17, 2012 at 8:18 a.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

We have the right to know what we eat. Period. I voted YES on this on my mail-in ballot which I am sending out today.

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Avatar for user 'Becalmed'

Becalmed | October 17, 2012 at 12:50 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

If this law passes, food processors will just label all food as containing GMO crops. We won't know anything that we didn't know before.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | October 17, 2012 at 1:22 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

Conservatives, moderates, and liberals agree that Prop 37 is positive step in the right direction for understanding what is in our food.

Please join Peking Duck and I in voting YES on 37.

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Avatar for user 'srcarucci'

srcarucci | October 17, 2012 at 2:23 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

I voted Yes on 37. 50 other countries have labeling and we should too. Even the FDA scientist said GE food should not be approved until it was tested as safe but Michael Taylor was head of the FDA and former VP of Monsanto and didn't listen.

The biotech companies want to patent all our seed and it hurts farmers who have always been able to save their seed - they can't. GE seed has been found to use more pesticide and has not increased crop yields, it's only increased Monsanto's profits.

I do not want to have my children be guinea pigs for biotech - watch if you want to see the true health risks. Dr. Briggs is obviously working for biotech, because much of what he said is not true.

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Avatar for user 'hazeleyes'

hazeleyes | October 17, 2012 at 3:11 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

I will vote YES on 37! All arguments GMO's. We have a right to know if the food we eat is GE. We cannot trust most "studies" on GE because of this:

I would ask where Steven Briggs got his funding for research...The gov't for years have pressured Universities to "partner" with buisness. The problem? A vested interest in the outcome of research.

So who can we trust anymore when told GMO's are safe? The same people who gave us Agent orange?

I want to decide for myself...if you believe Gmo's are safe...I'm not stopping you from eating them. For myself, I believe I have the choice. Just as I can pull up two cans of Chili...they have differing caloric amounts. One may be "safer" for me then the other...and without the labeling, I wouldn't have the information needed to make an informed decision.

Just label it for an informed decision! Yes on 37

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Avatar for user 'Claire Trageser'

Claire Trageser, KPBS Staff | October 17, 2012 at 3:51 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

hazeleyes, thanks for your comment. I asked Dr. Briggs if he would be impacted financially in any way by Prop 37 and he said he wouldn't be.

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Avatar for user 'JRuss'

JRuss | October 17, 2012 at 3:53 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

Yes, sucrose is glucose and fructose bound together with oxygen. HFCS is a mix of glucose and fructose that acts almost the same in our bodies. The difference is that HFCS is made with lye that is often made from salt water by electrolysis with a mercury cathode that leaves mercury in the lye that is used to break down corn starch into fructose. Therefore, most high fructose corn syrup contains mercury. Cane sugar does not contain mercury.

Most generically modified foods are modified to contain the Bt-gene that makes the Bt-toxin to which I am allergic. Just as some people are allergic to peanuts, I am allergic to the Bt-toxin. I need the label that says: "May contain GMOs".

Also note that just as pure white sugar is free of nutrients, foods modified to be RoundUp Ready are deficient in metal nutrients. Unlike organic and non-GMO foods that contain all the nutrients needed to metabolize them, RoundUp Ready foods lack the chromium needed to activate insulin. Therefore these foods lead to type 2 diabetes & weight gain, and also cannot satisfy hunger as can foods containing the nutrients our body is looking for.

http://Opinion.FarTooMuch.Info/GMHC.htm .

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Avatar for user 'jv333'

jv333 | October 17, 2012 at 5:16 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

If the public would like to hear more ... there's a free panel discussion on GMO and food safety at UCSD's Price Center on Tues Oct 23 from 6:30pm - 8:30pm ...

One major point from your story .... more than 60 countries, including Japan, Russia, China and most in Europe, require labels for genetically modified food. so why shouldn't we?

If there's nothing harmful abouit GMO, then why are the anti-Prop 37 forces worried?

Almost everything on our labels was fought for and won by consumers over time ... calories, amounts of sugar, salt, and other ingredients ...we should be all for more transparency, rather than less ...

and i hope the next big battle is against sugar and the obesity issue...there's an excellent video online with Dr Lustig ... he gets into the history of 'high fructose corn syrup"...

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Avatar for user 'EverNewEcoN'

EverNewEcoN | October 17, 2012 at 6:16 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago


I hope no one minds this.

The only way to place this much arguing with the
relevant links located as they are, and with the "bundle"
(does not link back to my site)

placed then additionally, is in a manner not conforming
to the character limitation here.

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Avatar for user 'DaleProp37'

DaleProp37 | October 17, 2012 at 9:31 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

One of the most worrisome issues associated with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in our food supply is that long term human safety studies are neither required nor conducted in the United States (for politically motivated, not scientific reasons).

Most Americans are unaware of the existence of Genetically Engineered ingredients in the food they eat and that they are untested for long term safety on children, adults or humans of any age. Monsanto and other biotech corporations have actively suppressed several legislative efforts to mandate labeling of GMOs to intentionally keep Americans uninformed to protect their profits. At best GMO developers might conduct a 42 day chicken study and/or 90 day rat study but these self serving studies presented to FDA are carefully constructed to limit or hide negative data. The biotech industry prohibits their studies to be reproduced by independent scientists making them highly questionable for scientific validity. In contrast, pharmaceuticals must undergo human safety testing for FDA approval whereas Genetically Engineered food does not. It is unethical and dangerous for an unproven, unnatural, manmade substance to be secretly sold and unknowingly consumed over a lifetime by Americans, especially by our children.

For something as vital to our biological survival as food . . . supporters for GMO Labeling seek ingredient disclosure to protect themselves and their children from being human guinea pigs unknowingly consuming a manmade laboratory substance developed solely for the financial benefit of huge multinational biotechnology and chemical companies.

Current Genetically Engineered crops are developed to be grown in conjunction with dangerous proprietary chemical herbicides or designed to produce their own internal pesticide in every cell of the plant, including the part that is consumed by children and adults. There is no evidence showing any nutrition benefit for Genetically Engineered crops grown in the United States yet there is a growing body of scientific evidence these crops and use of their associated chemical herbicides and internal pesticides are causing significant biological and ecological harm. Roundup, the herbicide that over 50% of all Genetically Engineered crops are engineered to tolerate, is not safe as has been claimed by Monsanto. Animal and Human epidemiological studies have found an association between Roundup exposure and miscarriage, birth defects, neurological development problems, DNA damage, and certain types of cancer.

The report, “GMO Myths and Truths, An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops”, presents a large body of peer-reviewed scientific and authoritative evidence of the hazards to health and the environment posed by Genetically Engineered crops (GMOs). Read the summary and full report here:

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Avatar for user 'ElizabethLerer'

ElizabethLerer | October 18, 2012 at 5:33 a.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

Here it is less than four weeks until election day and still I find people unaware of the importance of proposition 37, most do not even know what it is. These people I speak of are in food services.

My recommendation is to contact places like Trader Joe's (626) 599-3700 and request that they hang huge banners in support of voting yes on prop 37.

Next, ask your favorite restaurants to support voting yes on prop 37 by reminding their customers to vote.

Why is this so important? It is a signal that the world community will no longer tolerate the greedy and dangerous business practices of corrupt corporations.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | October 18, 2012 at 7:23 a.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

I don't have a dog in this fight, but I'm curious what the majority thinks would be an acceptable duration and scope for 'long term human testing' that would "show there's no risk at all". It seems like trying to prove a negative.

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Avatar for user 'afarrar'

afarrar | October 18, 2012 at 8:23 a.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

I urge everyone to stand up for their right to know what’s in their food and Vote Yes on Prop. 37. Product labels are the front line of consumer protection. Research and development on genetically engineered products (also known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs) are largely done by private sector, not public sector scientists because companies very aggressively protect their patents. According to the Center for Food Safety, as of January 2010, Monsanto had filed 136 lawsuits against farmers for alleged violations of its technology agreement or its patents on genetically engineered seeds. These cases have involved 400 farmers and 53 small-farm businesses. The level of secrecy and the combative nature of the industry fuel public distrust. Unfortunately, consumers cannot look to the federal government to increase their trust. The Food and Drug Administration does not require labeling of GMO products. Many people fear that some government officials in positions that make policy on genetically engineered products may hold biases born of their previous jobs with GMO seed companies.
The well-funded opposition is dispensing disinformation such as the notion that only a small “fanatic” minority objects to Genetically Engineered (GE) foods. A recent Mellman Group poll found that 90% of mothers and 88% of fathers favor mandatory labeling of GE foods. More than 50 countries have banned or restricted GE foods for good reason. Significant adverse health effects including allergies and reproductive and digestive tract disorders have been reported in humans and animals after just 14 days of consuming Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). GE seeds are not sold alone but are bundled with sales of pesticides made by the same corporations that are genetically engineering food crops. The planting of GE crops has increased US herbicide use by more than one-half billion pounds in 16 years. Monsanto is the worst of the biotech bunch. The FDA and USDA have abrogated their responsibility to determine the safety of GE crops due in part to corporate henchmen such as Michael Taylor, former Monsanto VP, recently promoted from US Food Safety Czar to Senior Advisor to the Commissioner of the FDA.

Here are some websites with more information:
Center for Food Safety
Many more links, some with videos.

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Avatar for user 'dorothea'

dorothea | October 21, 2012 at 4:56 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

I heard on your program that the FDA has determined genetically modified foods to be safe. What I have not heard on NPR is that the American Medical Association and World Health Organization/United Nations have said more safety studies on GMO's should be required. Numerous studies in the scientific literature have linked genetic engineering to allergies and other adverse effects. Despite these warnings, the U.S. federal government requires no safety studies for genetically engineered foods, and no long-term human health studies have been conducted. Labeling is an attempt to bring attention to this fact. Genetic engineering is a new technology. Long term effects are not yet known. Not enough studies have been done.

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Avatar for user 'ValleyCenterYeson37'

ValleyCenterYeson37 | October 27, 2012 at 1:26 p.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

While Dr. Briggs' might not currently benefit financially if Prop 37 fails, his prior connection to two GE giants bears some consideration in hearing his opinion. He is a former research director at Pioneer/Dupont as well as former CEO of a research institute owned by Syngenta. Both Dupont and Syngenta are heavily invested in GE agriculture as well as funders of the opposition to Prop 37. Identifying Dr. Briggs merely as a biologist at UCSD makes it appear that he is independent with no ties to either side of the debate. This is misleading.

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Avatar for user 'Claire Trageser'

Claire Trageser, KPBS Staff | October 29, 2012 at 6:25 p.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

As I wrote in an earlier comment, I asked Dr. Briggs if he would be impacted financially in any way by Prop 37 and he said neither he nor his research would be impacted. Although I see your point that the story could have included more on his background, I don't think it's misleading that that information wasn't included. The story also made it clear that Briggs supports the "No" side, so he is not merely a UCSD scientist in this piece.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | October 30, 2012 at 7:14 a.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

VCYo37, we could also take away from that credentialing of Dr. Briggs the assumption that he knows what he is talking about, having worked in the industry.
Some may consider that perspective negatively, but there is a difference between knowledge and loyalty. One can have experience without being beholden to the source of that experience.

If I could ask him a question it would be "Are there any GM foods that you do not or would not eat yourself?"

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Avatar for user 'DaleProp37'

DaleProp37 | November 6, 2012 at 12:35 p.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

There are many scientists that support Genetically Engineering (GE) as a scientific technique that also support Prop 37 specifically and Labeling GE Food in general. They recognize that this is still an experimental technology and may contain unknown health risks when applied to food crops are they are now with Corn, Canola, Soy, Sugar Beets. For a good read from a scientific prospective that supports Genetic Engineering and Labeling of GE Food visit

Needless to say, I am Voting YES on PROP 37 so I can avoid GE Food and the risk associated with this unproven technology and the highly toxic herbicide chemicals that are associated with them.

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Avatar for user 'DavidFaubion'

DavidFaubion | November 10, 2012 at 11:11 a.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

To Christie Wilcox, "Scientific American" (reprinted in the online journal: Industry Insider)
Thanks for giving the issue of GMO its due attention; thanks despite your part in the loss to our democracy and ethics to the mega-dollars of, in this case, agra-industry. Prop 37 had a 2-1 approval about one month before the election. Then, the attack ads of dis-information began to cascade in on the fact of the public right to information—our right to choose what we buy—practices we support. Ms. Wilcox, you write that you mistrust Monsanto. How, then, can you trust their flagship product: GMO, a technology that will finance their political immunity for all the nefarious and outright criminal acts they commit to bully their empire and dominate the farming of our food? The plain scientific fact is that GMO crops and other agra-industry practices are redefining Earth ecology; they are choking out native plants and animal organisms because these robot-crops are disconnected to the web of life—they are inedible to all organisms—micro to macro. So why should humans, livestock and soil be forced to eat them, forced by the god-almighty dollar of greedy agra-industry to eat them? You so-called scientists, please stop feeding the rat of arga-industry with your pseudo-science of political placation. Your lab-rat is becoming impervious to the rule of law and legal structure that might restrain it from devouring Earth ecology and defecating upon us all.

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Avatar for user 'DavidFaubion'

DavidFaubion | November 10, 2012 at 11:31 a.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

Professor Briggs, you are correct about the bone-head chemistry that is sugar from GMO beets vis-à-vis sugar from normal beets; but, you miss the point about the threat that is the tampering with the basic molecular chemistry of our food, by extension, other plants and organisms in the Earth ecology.

When science tampers with the physics and molecular chemistry of biology and matter, the consequences are a mixed-bag, as with nuclear technology or a crap-shoot at best.

All you need to see is the unethical bully practices of agra-industry imposing their hegemonic agenda of replacing all seeds—by force and kangaroo courts with—GMO should warn us.

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Avatar for user 'WillWorkForFood'

WillWorkForFood | November 20, 2012 at 3:54 p.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

Personally, voting Yes to Prop 37 was more about knowing what I consume than pressuring the labeling companies to change the way they run their business.

There has been a lot of controversy on the effects of Genetically Modified Organism's and both sides of the argument have some good points that are valid. However, if the long long term effects of GMO's are still unknown due to lack of scientific evidence, I believe we should err on the side of caution and allow the consumer to decide if they want to purchase GMO foods. In order for the consumer to make a well-informed decision about their diets, shouldn't we list all the facts on the label for them to see? After-all, if GMO's are harmless why not list them on the label along with all the other ingredients or put a simple statement at the bottom that states “This product contains GMO's”.

Some people argue about the cost of changing the labels and costs associated with creating new job fields that include inspectors to check that the food industry is upholding any new standards, guidelines and regulations associated with products containing GMO's. I personally do not see an issue in job creation especially in today economy where the current unemployment rate is 7.9%.

Additionally, in the food industry how can a restaurant guarantee there meals are all natural if companies are labeling there food products as “natural” when in fact they are using ingredients that contain GMO's?

Here are some links that I found useful that will provide additional information about GMO's:

Yest to 37:

Scientific America:


No to 37:

Label GMO's Website:

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