A few weeks back at a panel on food policy in Washington, D.C., which was part of the Association of Food Journalists' annual conference, the panelists were asked what the most important food policy story of 2012 is likely to be. The consensus was California's Proposition 37. Why? Because if the law passes in California, it's likely to open the door to new food-labeling practices nationwide.
Proposition 37, if passed, would require that all genetically modified foods be labeled as such. Supporters of the proposition claim this is important because the safety of genetically modified foods is still unknown, and for now, consumers have no way of knowing if that's what they're buying. (Just last week a study came out that claimed that rats fed genetically modified corn developed cancer, but scientists are now questioning the methodology of that study.)
Fifty countries around the world already require GMO labeling, including all of Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India and China.
Durning the panel in D.C., Barry Estabrook, author of the book Tomatoland and the blog Politics of the Plate, said, "I think the big story is going to be the California referendum on GMOs. It's not a California story. It's a national story."
Estabrook cited a study showing that 90 percent of Americans favor labeling, and pointed out that food producers will not alter their labeling practices just for one state -- especially not one the size of California -- so the law would become a de facto national standard.
Philip Brasher, editor of the "Executive Briefing on Agriculture and Food" for Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, agreed, saying, "You don't have to believe Barry. Just look at the money being spent."
He's talking about the huge amounts of money being funneled into the campaign to defeat Proposition 37. Big agriculture companies Monsanto and DuPont have spent millions on TV commercials and a web campaign. So far, Monsanto has put up $7.1 million toward the campaign, which claims that the law would be expensive and has too many loopholes. But, just as with any political issue, there's misinformation on both sides.
So do your reading. Because whatever we decide on Proposition 37 could end up affecting the labels on grocery store shelves for the entire country.