Update: California disappointed me. Prop 37 did not pass.
I’ve been diving into the history of Genetically Modified foods lately. I find the difference between attitudes in Europe and those in the U.S. really striking (Yep, we’re an easy-going bunch of eaters in comparison). Here’s a snippet from an article titled Europe angers US with strict GM labeling posted in Nature Biotechnology in 2003 right when Europe began establishing its import bans on Genetically Modified Organisms:
…the new regime—agreed to in late November 2002 after lengthy negotiations between ministers of individual member states—extends labeling to end-products such as sugars and oils even when GM ingredients cannot be detected in them because they are physically and chemically identical to products derived from non-GM crops. Even meat suppliers who feed their animals with transgenic grain will have to GM-label their products.
Food items will be exempted only if they were derived from crop material of which less than 0.9% was genetically modified. Comprehensive tracing of GM corn shipments will be essential to verify this. The effect will be that North American manufacturers will soon find their corn- or soy-based foodstuffs—virtually all of which are GM-derived—tagged with what the National Grain and Feed Association (Washington, DC) has likened to a “skull and crossbones on the packet.”
The CFR put out a great report in April of 2001 with a great introduction to the rampant skepticism of GMOs in Europe. Paints us Yankees as corn-dog scarfing ne’er-do-wells. To remedy this, Californians will vote Tuesday whether Genetically Modified food must be labelled in the state — a right Europeans have enjoyed for a decade. Also within the bill are restrictions on use of the word ‘Natural’, ‘Naturally made’, ‘naturally grown’ and ‘all natural.’
It’s amazing that entire aisles of our supermarkets cannot be fed even to the swine of Europe.
On a related note, I recommend watching the film (or even just the trailer) of Genetic Roulette and reading Michael Specter’s take in the New Yorker. I agree with the idea that seeds are at the root of the issue, but I have a huge amount of faith in the growing popularity of organic seed libraries sprouting all over America.