Science Wins in California - Proposition 37 Fails

The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting this morning that Proposition 37 that - on specious "right-to-know" grounds - would have required labeling foods containing ingredients from biotech enhanced crops has failed. In a vote for sanity and science, 55 percent of California voters rejected the measure. From the Chronicle:

Supporters of Proposition 37 said consumers have a right to know whether food has been genetically altered, particularly when the long-term health impacts are unclear. Opponents argued that the labels would stigmatize foods that are scientifically proven to be safe.

With more than 94 percent the precincts reporting, voters rejected the proposed labeling law. California would have been the first state in the nation to pass such an initiative.

"We said from the beginning that the more voters learned about Prop. 37, the less they would like it," said Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for the opposition. "We didn't think they would like the lawsuits, more bureaucracy, higher costs, loopholes and exemptions. It looks like they don't."

The measure calls for genetically engineered foods to include labels on either the front or back of the product. Whole foods, such as sweet corn and salmon, would have a sign on the shelf. Products such as alcohol, beef, eggs and dairy are exempt.

With regard to the scientific evidence for the safety of biotech crops, in my column,"California Initiative Puts Profit Ahead of Science," I reported:

At its annual meeting in June, the American Medical Association endorsed a report on the labeling of bioengineered foods from its Council on Science and Public Health. The report found that, “Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.” The AMA report further noted, “Despite strong consumer interest in mandatory labeling of bioengineered foods, the FDA’s science-based labeling policies do not support special labeling without evidence of material differences between bioengineered foods and their traditional counterparts. The Council supports this science-based approach….” Every independent scientific body that has ever evaluated the safety of current biotech crop varieties has found them to be as safe or even safer than conventional crop varieties.

Chalk one up for science over superstitition.

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  • ||

    It was a good night for libertarianism on the ballot initiative front.

  • ||

    Just another example of how nonsensical our political choices are. How is it that the people we elect to represent the other, more discrete, choices we make?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    But they didn't know at the time that Michelle Obama was handed a mandate.

  • Tim||

    It's funny that on global warming they will pound you on "the science" but on nuclear power and GMO's the same people dismiss the science as all lies.

  • ||

    They're convinced the science is tainted because no one has actually studied GMOs except Monsanto.

  • PapayaSF||

    If you want to see them blow a fuse, ask them about The Bell Curve.

  • sarcasmic||

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding of bioengineering is that they splice genes in laboratories to produce things that would otherwise require many generations of selective breeding.

    It's more of a shortcut than anything else.

    Am I wrong?

  • Chloe||

    For the most part. But, these people are not concern with that. What they are screaming about is the gene experiments that take place in labs that splice genes of different species together in order to study how the genes and proteins work. These idiots honestly believe that those experiments are now in the food supply.

  • ||

    There's no such thing as "genes of different species". It would be more accurate to say there are "species of different genes".

    Gene are rarely unique to a particular species. Species are made up of unique combinations of genes, arranged and regulated by other genes in a particular way.

    I makes no more sense to speak of a "tomato gene" than it does to speak of a "windows if statement".

  • ||

    There's no such thing as "genes of different species".

    I believe Chloe means "genes FROM different species".

  • ||

    Well, the species origin of the gene is sort of irrelevant.

    To extend the coding analogy, it's like you found a subroutine that sorts a list in say a Windows C++ project and then you cut and paste it into a totally different Mac program and *GASP*VERBOTEN!!!!

    Or to make another analogy, say you took a word from a Jane Austen novel and used in (VERBOTEN!) a Phillip K. Dick science fiction novel.

    It's just code, it's not like every gene has a little "made from tomato" stamp on the end that identifies what species it "belongs" to. Code is code, and genes aren't even like whole subroutines, they're more like individual words.

  • SKR||

    I'm am stealing the if statement analogy. Thanks that's a great way to explain things.

  • Tim||

    Yes, they splice genes, but they also splice in evil and spite.

  • PapayaSF||

    And intellectual property and profit. Boo!

  • Romulus Augustus||

    When your state is a huge exporter of agricultural items it isn't very wise to set up labeling requirements that may lead importing states to question the safety of your exports.

  • Sevo||

    Romulus Augustus| 11.7.12 @ 9:53AM |#
    " isn't very wise..."

    Wise? This is California we're discussing. You know, the place that elected Moonbeam (again), that gives you Pelosi; that place.

  • Juice||

    Maybe the labeling initiative was a bad idea, but to say that "science wins" is a non sequitur. If the labels are totally accurate, then whether there is a label on the food or not has nothing to do with science. If the label said "This food is more dangerous to your health," then you'd have a point, but if it just accurately states, "This food was made with GMO," then it's not anti-science.

  • Sevo||

    Juice| 11.7.12 @ 10:17AM |#
    "Maybe the labeling initiative was a bad idea, but to say that "science wins" is a non sequitur."

    OK, how about "Propaganda was defeated"?

  • Juice||

    That's better, but more accurate would be, "justice wins and force loses."

  • SKR||

    It's almost like subtext doesn't exist.

  • Randian||

    "This food was made with GMO," then it's not anti-science.

    To ape sarcasmic, does the color of the shirt of the guy who packed your food matter?

    Would you support a mandate that says "Packaged by Purple Shirt Wearers"?

  • ||

    Better, would you support one that says "packaged by homosexuals" ?

    The sole purpose of identifying something is to allow consumers to discriminate. If there's no scientific basis for such discrimination than allowing them to discriminate on an unscientific basis is enabling anti-science behavior.

    Just like telling consumers that their food is "packaged by homosexuals" serves no purpose other than allowing people to discriminate against gay, and thus would be anti-gay.

  • Juice||

    If a mandate that forced labels to read either "Packaged by homosexuals" or "Packaged by heterosexuals" was defeated, would you claim "science wins"? Common sense and justice both win, but science has nothing to do with it.

  • ||

    I would say "reason wins".

  • Joe Emenaker||

    "Better, would you support one that says 'packaged by homosexuals'?"

    Nice one! I agree that the whole point of labeling it is to allow the consumer to discriminate. But do we have to constrain labeling to things which are proven to be health risks? After all, tuna which isn't "dolphin-safe" doesn't pose a health risk to anybody, but there *is* a segment of buying public who don't want their dollars going to a company which is killing dolphins in their nets. So, what's your feeling about "Dolphin-safe" labeling on tuna cans?

  • Juice||

    What makes you think I support the labeling scheme?

  • Ron Bailey||

    J: Science wins because the justification for labels is either as a warning or for nutrition. Current biotech crops are not dangerous nor are they nutritionally different from conventional crops.

    Opponents hope/know that pasting labels on foods, e.g., contains genetically modified ingredients or some such, would be interpreted by many people as a "warning" label. This is simply misleading.

  • ||

    "This food was made with GMO," then it's not anti-science.

    Science cannot define GMO.

    Science would describe anything with genes as GMO.

    So yes defining something using anti-science concepts is anti-science.

  • Juice||

    The term "GMO" means that the genes were modified artificially, ie by humans with intent.

  • ||

    If some other religious group got an initiative that required labeling food that did not meet religious specifications and that was defeated we would say science wins.

    Why are environmental zealots not considered a religion? How is their irrational moralization of food any different?

  • Juice||

    If some other religious group got an initiative that required labeling food that did not meet religious specifications and that was defeated we would say science wins.

    I wouldn't. Science doesn't come into play here. Either the food meets certain specifications or it doesn't. That's not affirming or denying any generally accepted scientific theory. It's just stating a fact.

    The question is whether people should be forced to label food that they sell in this way.

  • Suellington||

    That this was the best result of the entire election is pretty depressing. Increased taxes won big in California and we now have a Dem supermajority in the State Leg. It should be exciting to see how massively they plan to fuck things up even worse here.

  • ||

    I dunno I'd say wins on the MJ legalization front might be the "best" result. Followed closely by gay marriage and eminent domain.

    I actually think it was a rather GOOD night for libertarianism, considering that a win for Romney wasn't going to be exactly TEH AWESOME.

    When you consider that an epic rollback of the entitlement state wasn't really in the cards, wins on specific issues such as drug legalization, gay marriage, and property rights have to be counted as solid progress.

    After all, ballot initiatives actually make law, while electing politicians is at best an indirect path towards actual law.

  • Lyle||

    California has some sense left.

  • ||

    I am guessing that California's huge agricultural industry actually got around to showing some muscle.

  • Disgusted Dem||

    I'm not certain that voters defeated Prop. 37 because of the science. I suspect that people reacted more to the warning of what it would cost them at the grocery store. And people are very sensitive to food costs at this time. If you take a look at Prop. 30's victory, it shows that Californians are willing to pay a higher cost if it goes to something they think is beneficial. If the backers of Prop. 37 had managed to create some sort of convoluted (but easily refutable) logic that the increased costs would have benefited education or green energy, then I suspect voters here would have passed it easily in a fit of idiotic altruism.

  • Joe Emenaker||

    My opposition to GMO foods has nothing to do with their safety. What disturbs me is the way that GMO seed makers coerce farmers into buying their product.

    Suppose you're a farmer who wants to do things the old-fashioned way, growing your crops and then saving some portion of the seeds from your harvest for the next planting. You're not allowed to do that with patented GMO because they consider that the same as making an illegal copy of a movie or song. So, you do it with plain ol' garden-variety seeds.

    Well, if your farm borders another farm using GMO.. and if one of those GMO seeds blows over to your farm and sprouts, Monsanto inspectors will find their GMO in your fields, and if you haven't purchased an entire field's-worth of their GMO seeds, they sue your sorry butt.

    So, what happens is that, if you're a farmer who borders a GMO farm, it's impossible for you to guarantee that GMO seeds won't infiltrate the edges of your farm, so you *will* get sued, so you might as well just assimilate into the borg and buy Monsanto's seeds.

    So, I don't want them labeled because I'm afraid that GMO will give me cancer. I just want to support the little guys who feel, like I do, that companies like Monsanto are abusing the patent system by patenting biology and using it to extort farmers into buying their product.

    Besides, we're talking about labeling; like "Dolphin Safe" on tuna cans. It's not a ban. It's *information*... and I can't see how information is bad for consumers.

  • ||

    Monsanto inspectors will find their GMO in your fields, and if you haven't purchased an entire field's-worth of their GMO seeds, they sue your sorry butt.

    Never going to happen.

  • ||

    and if one of those GMO seeds blows over to your farm and sprouts

    By the way is anything grown in California which this could even happen?

    Dryland wheat (i don't think that is a very big crop in California) is really the only way this could ever be a problem.

    I don't imagine Orange seeds, grape seeds or avocado seeds ever get a chance to blow over from field to another.

  • Todd Gilbert||

    Already has and then Monsanto sued the farmer because they said it was their patented seeds.

  • Todd Gilbert||

    Already has

  • SanFrancitizen||

    The link in the paragraph:

    Every independent scientific body that has ever evaluated the safety of current biotech crop varieties has found them to be as safe or even safer than conventional crop varieties.

    is to an article from 2007. Surely you could find something more current than that? From

    Tumours developed more readily in rats fed genetically modified maize than in controls, recent research reports..... study published in the peer-reviewed journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.
  • Todd Gilbert||

    This was not about science. Labeling gives people the choice to decide what to eat. Their afraid people won't want to eat their foods if the knew it had GMO in it. To say labels would stigmatize foods is a joke. That's like saying I don't want to list sugar in the ingredients because some people don't want to consume sugar. No science didn't win, the people lost to a big corporation.


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