Prop 105 would amend Colorado law to require that genetically modified food sold in shops such as supermarkets be affixed with the label "Produced With Genetic Engineering." On this, our editorial board has reached a stalemate.
The case in favor
Information is power. And what and how we label impacts consumer behavior.
Nearly all adult Americans — 93 percent, according to a recent ABC-TV poll — say the federal government should require labels on food saying whether it's been "genetically modified," or "bio-engineered." (The poll used both phrases.)
Too few non-corporate-funded studies have been done on the long-term safety of genetically engineered food. Unlike with drugs, there are very few human clinical trials.
Another major concern is that genetically modified crops promote mono-culture, where one GM seed dominates an entire region's agriculture production. Six years ago, 92 percent of Kansas land devoted to soy production used a single GM seed: Monsanto's Round Up Ready. This has enormous and often unpredictable ramifications for our environment.
This past year, attractive premiums for GMO-free soy, and rising prices for genetically modified soybean seed, have led Kansas farmers to increase the number of acres devoted to non-GMO soy crops, according to the University of Kansas. Yet GMO-peddling companies and their products are still responsible for driving some small farmers out of business and for designing crops that work with pesticides and herbicides that have decimated our bees, water and other valuable environmental resources.
Their desire to take over our entire agricultural industry is being fulfilled with little government regulation and with what could be frightening consequences. Mono-crops are susceptible to diseases that could mean a wipeout of millions of acres of crops. They also may not provide all the health benefits we need.
We haven't always labeled foods with calorie, salt or protein information, but we do now. Let Colorado join Vermont and 61 nations, including the entire European Union and China, to require such labels so consumers can make informed decisions.
Agribusiness giants such as Monsanto and PepsiCo are investing $10 million to defeat Prop 105. Let's give Colorado consumers information they want by adding four little words to food packages.
The case against
We live in fraught times. We're wary about fracking chemicals; concerned over pesticides that appear to be killing the bees; and don't know what's in our food. Yet we need the jobs, the dollars, the calories, even as we fear we're poisoning ourselves and our environment.
And fear clouds our judgment.
There's always going to be tension between the profit motive of most food producers and the interests of public health. There's been a role for government to play in this space at least since the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which was a truth-in-labeling law. The argument for Proposition 105 is similar.
But we're not convinced the people or the state have a compelling interest this time.
A study published in a 2013 issue of Critical Reviews in Biotechnology looks at 10 years' worth of experiments regarding genetically engineered crops — 1,783 records — and concludes, "the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazard directly connected with the use of GM crops."
Prop 105 proponents, putting forth an initiative that exempts meat and dairy producers as well as restaurants, say they just want transparency. We do, too. And we aren't wild about climbing into bed with Monsanto on this one, the focus of some of their ire.
But we don't mandate the labeling of things that we don't know to be harmful because they might be found to be harmful in the future. Otherwise, we'd have to label everything ... and then everyone would ignore the labels.
There's nothing to keep anyone from producing and marketing non-GMO foods — labeled as such, touted as such — now. Some already do. And if enough people want those products, you can bet that some of the big corporate opponents of this proposition will jump into that market, putting non-GMO Cheez Whiz in Aisle 5.