Thursday, August 2, 2012


Labeling regulations which are in force in many countries have been evolved to provide useful information to consumers regarding the nature of foods sold, its nutritive value, expiration date, price per unit and any others of relevance. The system currently in vogue has served admirably in most cases though there are rumblings from some quarters seeking more information about the foods marketed. The information provided is mostly confined to the products and no one questions the nature of technology used to prepare the foods. One of the exceptions to this rule was made in the case of irradiated foods where some countries insist on declaring irradiation process on the label. The endless campaign to compel the food industry to declare whether a particular food is made through genetic engineering technology or whether the product contains ingredients made by genetic manipulation is running its course in countries like the US where a massive procession was taken out by antagonists of GM foods to the Office of the President of that country demanding compulsory labeling of such foods. This is a very controversial subject with no unanimity regarding the safety of GM foods on a long term basis with opponents and supporters marshaling "evidence" in support of their stand. While the food safety authorities in the US has not changed its stand taken in 1992 that GM products are safe to consume, there are many states which are taking initiatives to force their local governments to impose such labeling restrictions. The State of California, considered one of the most progressive states in the US is considering  compulsory labeling regulations based on a referendum to be carried out soon to seek people's view. If passed by a majority, no food industry can sell any product containing GM food ingredients in that state. It will be interesting to watch the developing situation which will shape the future of GM foods in the US. Here is take on this controversial subject.     

Voters will soon decide whether to make California the first state in the country to require labels on products such as sweet corn whose genes have been altered to make them resistant to pests. Proposition 37 promises to set up a big-money battle pitting natural food businesses and activists against multinational companies including PepsiCo,Coca-Cola and Kellogg. Backers and opponents have already raised nearly $4 million combined for campaigns to sway voters, an amount that's likely to swell into the tens of millions of dollars as the November election approaches. So-called GMO foods — those made from genetically modified organisms — have been declared safe by U.S. regulators. But concern persists about the unforeseen consequences of this laboratory tinkering on human health and the environment. The outcome in California could rattle the entire U.S. food chain. An estimated 70% to 80% of processed foods sold in supermarkets could be affected, industry experts said, along with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. The measure qualified for the California ballot with nearly 1 million signatures; labeling in the state could set a precedent that's followed nationwide. "This will be a big fight," said Shaun Bowler, a UC Riverside political scientist specializing in initiatives. "This is a popular issue because people are very afraid of the words 'genetically engineered.' And the people who sell this stuff are worried about losing sales." Backers of the initiative are encouraged by a pair of recent national opinion surveys showing that about 9 out of 10 consumers support labeling. A California-specific poll, released Thursday by the Business Roundtable and the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy, showed Proposition 37 has an almost 3-to-1 ratio of support, with 64.9% of prospective voters favoring it, compared with 23.9% opposed. 

Why the US alone is resisting this labeling demand is some what unclear though strong lobbying by GM food giants with billions of dollars at stake may be behind this anachronism. Over 50 countries have compulsory labeling rule for GM foods and nothing untoward has happened during the last few years such restrictions were in force. The fact that GM food labeling controversy has become a political foot ball match between the States and the Federal Government is making the situation more dicey. It is not clear how similar propositions to label GM foods never got majority support in some 20 states where balloting had taken place during the last few years. Whether California balloting will break with the past remains to be seen but if pre-referendum polls of overwhelming support from the people, are to be believed, food industry in the US will have to work out a different strategy to market their food products in that state since  almost 80% of foods in that country are based on GM ingredients.


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