GroundTruth Blog

GE labeling: The world wants it

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by Marcia Ishii-Eiteman

What do over 60 countries in the world, representing over half the world’s population — including member nations of the European Union, Russia, China, Brazil, Australia, Turkey, Saudia Arabia, Indonesia and Japan — have in common? A national requirement for mandatory GE food labeling.

And the global movement continues to grow, with India’s GE labeling laws coming into full force in 2013. Last week, I heard more good news: one of our partners in South Africa, the African Centre for Biosafety, reports that GE labeling laws there are getting stronger.

While South Africa already has mandatory GE labeling laws, the Department of Trade and Industry just published new draft amendments to improve those laws. The new regulations would require that all locally produced and imported food containing 5% or more of GE ingredients or components must be labeled as such.

Until now, the food industry has argued that current GE labeling laws do not apply to processed food. The proposed amendments will change that. According to Mariam Mayet, Director of the African Centre for Biosafety:

The proposed amendments convey the clear intention of government that the food industry must now step up to the plate and label their products.

That’s a very good thing for South Africans, whose staple food maize (or corn) has been genetically engineered for years. Still, passage of the amendments is not assured, as the GE and pesticide industry in South Africa will lobby hard over the coming week for weaker regulations — just as they do in the United States.

U.S. missing in action?

It’s striking to me that even in other countries where GE crops are widely cultivated (Brazil, India and South Africa), those nations — and their peoples — already enjoy the right to know which of their foods have been genetically modified. Where is the U.S. in all this global progress towards transparency in the marketplace? Missing in action.

But here in California, ordinary people are mobilizing like never before to put our state on the global map of people who have the right to know what’s in their food. The energy I’ve seen here around Proposition 37 — California’s GE labeling initiative — is absolutely phenomenal.

At the same time, the lengths to which the world’s biggest GE and pesticide companies will go to try to prevent passage of this citizens’ initiative is, while not surprising, still stunning. According to the latest filings released by the California Secretary of State and reported by PAN this week, the world’s six largest pesticide corporations, or “Big 6”, are now the six largest funders of the No on 37 campaign.

The "Big 6" are now the six largest funders of the No on 37 campaign.

Together these companies have poured $20 million into blocking the proposition, including a massive TV ad blitz. As Ari Levaux writes in The Atlantic, if at the end of the day Prop 37 loses, “it won't say much about the value of labeling, or GMOs, or even food. It will prove that color TV ads can turn black into white.”

Experts say the outcome is far from decided. “It still could go either way,” notes Michael Shires, the Pepperdine professor who coordinated a recent survey showing eroding support for Prop 37 in the aftermath of the TV ad blitz.

Join us! We have 19 days left to put California on the map! Take action to support the right to know what’s in our food.

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman's blog

is PAN's Senior Scientist and Director of the Grassroots Science Program. Follow @MarciaIshii

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