Survey: Biologists Say 'No' to Prop. 37's GMO Labels

Patch contacted eight biologists at California universities to get their opinion on Proposition 37. Seven of the eight urged a 'no' vote on the measure.


A group of eight biology professors from throughout California who were asked to weigh in on the state proposition that would label genetically modified food overwhelmingly urged a 'no' vote for the measure.

Proposition 37, which is on the ballot on Tuesday, would make California the first state in the union to require that certain plant or animal products sold be labeled if their genetic material has been modified. The law would also make it illegal for food companies to label genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, as “natural.”

To get a scientific perspective on the issue, Patch reached out to more than 25 professors across the state with a background in biology or genetics to ask them how they would suggest Californians vote. Of the eight professors who responded, seven told Patch they would urge a 'no' vote.

Neelima Sinha, a professor of plant biology at the University of California-Davis, wrote that she was suggesting a 'no' vote because scientific research has not shown GMOs are unsafe to consume.

"GM food is no more safe or unsafe than anything else we eat," Sinha wrote in an email. "In fact most outbreaks of food poisoning have been from non-GM but poorly stored or treated food. Much of what we consume is already GM – all cheeses, many drugs."

Backed by more than $44 million from food giants like Monsanto, DuPoint, PepsiCo, General Mills and Kellogg, Prop. 37's opponents have touted that perspective in recent TV ads, noting that the American Medical Association has said there is "no scientific justification" for labeling genetically engineered food.

The AMA, which represents the nation's doctors, calls for greater "availability of unbiased information and research activities on bioengineered foods." The organization also has stated that the current voluntary system for testing genetically engineered food before it hits store shelves should be mandatory.

But even among doctors and biologists, the debate about Prop. 37 has veered towards the alleged costs associated with the proposition's additional labeling requirements rather than the reasons why the labeling is needed or not. 

In his comments to Patch, Alan McHughen, a plant biotechnologist and professor at the University of California, Riverside, focused on the possible imposition of more costs on low-income citizens.

"There’s no question Prop. 37 will cost a lot of money, and only serve the purpose of satisfying the curiosity of a few," McHughen wrote. "Why should poor people pay more for food when they don’t care about the label? It’s all about the majority paying more for food to satisfy the curiosity of the 1 percent."

However, De Anza College biologist Judy Cuff-Alvarado, the lone respondent to urge a 'yes' vote, said she does not buy the argument that the measure will raise the cost of food.

"Consumers need to know what they are eating and have informed choice," Cuff-Alvarado wrote. "I do not believe the argument that this is going to drive prices up dramatically. Just look at the European model. They're doing fine."

According to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office analysis, since GMOs entered the U.S. market in 1996, a vast majority of corn and soybean grown in the United States is genetically modified. According to some estimates, 40 percent to 70 percent of food found in grocery stores is genetically engineered.

GMO labeling is mandatory is almost 50 countries in the world.

While Patch's sampling of biology professors was against Prop. 37, the Yes on 37 has garnered the support of a number of celebrities, including Danny DeVito, Dave Matthews and Bill Maher,

"If there's nothing wrong with GMOs, why not put it on the label?" Matthews says in the attached video, emphasizing, "Made with GMOs!"

Whole Foods is backing Prop. 37 by offering "Yes on 37" buttons and bumper stickers in all of its stores. The grocery chain is also running its own social media and radio campaign to encourage voters to approve the measure. 

To date, it hasn't been enough to sway public opinion. A recent poll by the California Business Roundtable and Pepperdine University School of Public Policy revealed 39.1 percent of likely California voters support the Prop. 37, according to the LA Times. The poll also found that 50.5 percent oppose the labeling and 10.5 percent are undecided. 

What's your reaction? Are you going to vote for Prop. 37? 

Kathleen Duich November 06, 2012 at 07:19 PM
This article made me lose all faith in what I thought was a great resource for our community. 8 professors "polled", Davis funded by Big Ag, one quote ludicrously claiming that GMOs don'g cause food poisoning, clearly confused on the issue to begin with, day before elections etc. etc. etc. What is wrong with you, Patch? You weren't even skillful about hiding your agenda here so you could continue to influence under the guuse of journalism. And, AOL is owned by Time Warner... who knows where they fit in to the Monsanto/Dow/Big Ag brotherhood? Shame on you guys. Won't be reading you again.
Sierra Salin November 06, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Oops.... Hey, trust us, Nuclear power is safe, we can assure you, Oops, Cherynobyl and Fukushima are still sewing, Oops, Hey, cigarettes and asbestos are fine and dandy, trust us, we are Doctor's and "scientists" and "we" know. Oops. Hey, trust us, Fracking is safe, Hey, DDT is good for you. Cut the Hockeypuck. GMO's are likely as dangerous as nuclear radiation, and is changing the face of our future in ways which we have no clue. Keep your garbage out of Nature and everything's future, you imbecilic and profiteering morons.
Jim Welte November 06, 2012 at 07:36 PM
Kathleen - You make a perfectly fair point about the timing of this article. We reached out to biology professors across the state and didn't get the response we'd hoped for until it was arguably too late. We decided to run the piece and add some context, but you're right, the timing wasn't great. As for Aol's connections to "Monsanto/Dow/Big Ag brotherhood," there are none.
Scott November 06, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Adding labels will scare some percentage of consumers away from gmo-based food and over to organics (which is why the organics industry supports the proposition so much). GMO food is, by design and definition, more efficiently produced with crop yields far greater than non-gmo foods. Such efficiency lowers the cost of food for consumers, significantly (Witness the price differential between organics and non-organics). So by causing the decreased the consumption of GMO foods, prices will rise. This will disproportionately, and negatively, impact the poor. GMO is a decades old science not dissimilar to Mendel's original work with peas (7th grade biology) though a lot faster and much more accurate. There's been no research that says GMOs are harmful (for good reason - cross pollination is a natural occurance) and lots of proof they're not (they're extensively tested and then approved/registered by the FDA). The "right to know" is red herring. The real purpose of the proposition is to end GMO food. Either way, the result will be to raise the cost of food and make lives worse for the poor. All because some people are afraid of science.
Bob Silvestri November 06, 2012 at 08:14 PM
The big "tout" about agribusiness's GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in food has been that we needed it to "feed the world." However, it turns out that GMO crops yield less than conventional crops, which yield less than organic farming. It's all PR. Exposed: the great GM crops myth http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/exposed-the-great-gm-crops-myth-812179.html Does planting GMO seed boost farmers' profits? http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/news/leopold-letter/1999/fall/does-planting-gmo-seed-boost-farmers-profits Union of Concerned Scientists - GMO Failure to Yield http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/failure-to-yield.pdf
Jimmy Fishbob Geraghty November 06, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Jim Welte, look at the people who sit on the boards of these mega-corporations, they do have a great deal of cross-pollination at that level, so I wouldn't be surprised to find clones from one board to the other... follow the money, always!
Jennifer Hammond November 06, 2012 at 08:54 PM
I know one scientist who is very concerned about GMOs and has been appearing before Congress to address her concerns - that's Jane Goodall - one of the people I admire most in this world. Read her book Harvest for Hope and you will get a different take on this issue from a scientist's perspective. Bottom line is that even the FDA states they would like to see more testing- I think it can be agreed that there are many unknowns about the health effects of GMO foods. People should have the choice not to be a lab experiment . And beyond the health effects is the environmental damage GMOs cause- for that reason alone, people should have the CHOICE whether to support such practices or not.
Scott November 06, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Plenty of flaws there. A) the union of concerned scientists is not a credible organization, they're highly biased and not worthy of even discussing. B) The 14 year old (roundup ready seeds were introduced 16 years ago) Iowa survey essentially concludes the results are inconclusive, and this was just two season post introduction. C) The UK and UN studies cannot be used to form global conclusions because they were both singular plots not population studies across multiple regions and plots. FDA registration requires multiple plots across multiple regions prior to approval for this exact reason. The simple proof of whether they lower the cost of production is evidenced by the continued use and growth of GMO seeds. If it didn't provide farmers with lower costs they wouldn't use them and Monsanto would stop selling them. The opposite is the case.
Bob Silvestri November 06, 2012 at 09:02 PM
For those interested in learning more about Monsanto, a documentary that provides a good overview of how agri-business and factory farming has impacted our food and our food security is "Food, Inc." https://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Food_Inc./70108783?locale=en-US&mqso=80030196&mkwid=sCBd7F4jS&gclid=CLDynu3yy7ICFWjhQgodp0wAsw For additional "credible" information on current food issues, including the GMO business, the Center for Food Safety is an excellent resource. http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/
Bob Silvestri November 06, 2012 at 09:03 PM
Mono-cropping, which is what GMO crops are, has ALWAYS been a bad idea throughout history. It depletes soil fertility and destroy's nature's greatest strength and the best hope the planet has for healthy and resilient ecosystems, diversity. But worse, it ironically opens the door to food shortages just as it did in Ireland during the Great Potato Famine, when the entire country relied mostly on one kind of potato that was attacked by a blight. But probably the most worrisome concern is that GMO seeds are patented lifeforms. Monsanto has been suing farmers into bankruptcy who have some of their GMO soybeans growing on their land, even though the seeds got their naturally from another field (wind, birds, etc.). Monsanto has tried to patent basmati rice (a staple in the Indian diet) on the world market, then turned around and sued long time Indian rice producers for selling their products in the U.S. GMOs are not about crop yields or feeding the world or nutrition. They are about one thing and only one thing: making money by patenting food crops. Watch: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-world-according-to-monsanto/
Bob Silvestri November 06, 2012 at 09:04 PM
Watch this short video and Vote Yes on Prop 37 to require labeling of all GMO food. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lni6OAJz3sk Share it with friends
Scott November 06, 2012 at 09:25 PM
More horse hockey. Why do farmers keep planting it if it increases the cost of production? And by the way, it's extremely expensive to conduct the R&D to develop these novel products, they absolutely should be patentable otherwise no one would do it. Imagine if biotech companies couldn't patent the drugs they've developed using the same techniques.
Carol X November 06, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Carol X November 06, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Hee hee!
Carol X November 06, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Oh please, "Scott." Who's paying you to say this? Do you think we're idiots? Of COURSE it lowers the cost of food. So does adding shredded cardboard to meat! So does adding melamine to pet food! How far will Big Ag go to increase their profits? Will they decimate the health of humans and animals and the planet to that end? Why yes, they will! There is no limit to what they will do, the scumbags. "Afraid of science"? What bullshit. Afraid of what Monsanto et al will do to us to line their pockets is more like it. THEY are the ones who are afraid; afraid of a little sunlight and transparency into what they're doing. You are defending evil, pure and simple. If you want to make life better for the poor and everyone else, why don't you hand out birth control and support zero population growth? The solution is less people, not more food.
tony masi November 06, 2012 at 11:52 PM
And at Monsanto it's all about the poor. Gee Scott, thanks for putting it back in perspective for me. I had almost forgot that Monsanto was the Mother Theresa of multi-national corporations. They've done such good things for the health and well-being of the planet already. For heaven's sake, GMOs are really just 7th grade biology. It's only science. Next thing you know and soon people will be afraid of radiation, too. Silly wabbits.
tony masi November 06, 2012 at 11:55 PM
And if crack wasn't so good for your teeth, addicts would stop smoking it and the CIA would stop selling it.
tony masi November 07, 2012 at 12:00 AM
I think they should just cut to the chase and patent eating.
Scott November 07, 2012 at 12:04 AM
Carol, no one is paying me. Are you being paid by the organics industry? And to your second question: yes. You are afraid of that which you do not understand. There's a reason GMO has not been shown to be dangerous, it's not. There are no credible studies that show anything to the contrary (the only one's ever quoted lack credibility). But go ahead, put on your tin foil hat, hide in your bunker. Monsanto is out to make a profit, of course. That doesn't make them evil. Farmers, even organic farmers, are profit seekers as well. Does that make them evil too? Monsanto's means of making a profit are to provide products that lower the costs of their customers. That has the benefit of lowering the cost to consumers. As you so very clearly demonstrate, this prop has nothing to do with the "right to know" it's designed to try to end GMOs. By pitching it as the "right to know" the sponsors are practicing deceptive advertising. Who's lying now?
Bob Silvestri November 07, 2012 at 12:32 AM
dirk ooijkaas November 07, 2012 at 01:01 AM
thanks for the info!
Kathleen Duich November 07, 2012 at 03:37 AM
Scott, I'm afraid of what I can't understand too. That's the whole point. Let's understand how this, or any other, science affects our health and the health of the planet long before it shows up in 70% of the food we eat.
dirk ooijkaas November 07, 2012 at 05:22 AM
thanks for the info
dirk ooijkaas November 07, 2012 at 05:23 AM
no kidding!
dirk ooijkaas November 07, 2012 at 05:28 AM
thanks for the reply! everybody should know this!
Bob Hunter November 07, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Industrial agriculture and food production has severely compromised family health. Almost any ground we can gain against a corrupted food supply is probably good.
Rebekah Collins November 07, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Mr Abendschain, " Though it trails 58-42 percent statewide, Prop. 37 (labeling GMO foods) enjoys the exact reverse support (58-42 percent) in Marin". And this article will be remembered as a divisive last minute tactic.. .
Tara Coyote November 08, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Those professors that urged no on 37 were paid off by Monsanto and the other biotech companies.. It's a shame that this was put out the morning of election day and is a very biased article... If you read the feedback of many of the responders above, as they state 37 wouldn't have any cost to consumers.. The biotech companies poured $55 million into defeating 37 and the biologists at the universities were part of the scheme...I was shocked that this was in our local web publication and seems very narrow-minded...
Scott November 08, 2012 at 08:23 PM
How do you know they were paid by Monsanto?
A November 16, 2012 at 08:33 PM
I wanted to share this article with you regarding No on Prop 37's campaign tactics: http://www.waccobb.net/forums/content.php?215-Grassroots-Lessons-From-Monsanto%92s-Swift-Boating-of-California-s-Campaign-to-Label-GMO-s


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