1.Safety of genetically modified foods is debated in California
2.Support for California GMO Labeling Proposal Drops Following Industry-Funded Ad Blitz

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1.Safety of genetically modified foods is debated in California
Laurel Rosenhall
The Sacramento Bee, October 31 2012

Susan Lang doesn't know for certain if her son's itchy skin and upset stomach were caused by eating food made from crops whose genes were altered in a lab.

But over the years, she believes she's been able to soothe the 8-year-old's eczema and digestive problems by eliminating genetically modified organisms from his diet.

"I know that when I feed this child better he does better, and feeding him better includes not feeding him GMOs," Lang said.

The Fair Oaks woman concedes, however, that her evidence is not scientific, saying she has "more than a hunch, but I don't have proof."

Lang learned about genetic engineering – the process of splicing plant or animal genes to create new characteristics – as she began altering her family's diet to help her son. In the process, she became concerned that consumers don't know enough about the technology that goes into producing a huge part of the American food supply. Eventually she became a volunteer for the Proposition 37 campaign.

The measure on Tuesday's California ballot asks voters if food companies should be required to label genetically engineered food. At the core of the debate is a seemingly simple question: Is it safe to eat?

Proposition 37 supporters offer little scientific evidence that genetically modified food is dangerous to human health. A recent French study that found rats developed tumors after months of eating genetically modified corn was quickly panned by the scientific community.

Supporters instead point out perceived deficiencies in most studies that exist, raise questions about the procedures for approving the food and argue that the biotechnology industry has undue influence on government regulators.

"Experts are still debating if foods modified with DNA from other plants, animals, bacteria, and even viruses are safe," says a radio ad urging a "yes" vote on Proposition 37. "But while the debate goes on, we all have the right to make an informed choice."

Opponents are making the case that labeling the food implies health dangers that haven't been proved.

"As a doctor, it concerns me when families are given misleading health information," Dr. Sherry Franklin of San Diego says in a No on 37 ad.

The ad also points out that the American Medical Association has said there is "no scientific justification" for labeling genetically engineered food.

That is true – but incomplete. The association that represents the nation's doctors also calls for greater "availability of unbiased information and research activities on bioengineered foods." And it says there should be a different system for testing genetically engineered food before it hits store shelves. Right now, the testing process is voluntary; the medical association says it should be mandatory.

The voluntary testing system is a concern to Proposition 37 supporters. They say it puts too much control in the hands of companies that stand to profit from their biotech inventions.

Altered crops in many foods

Most corn, soybeans, canola and sugar beets grown in the United States are engineered to kill pests or withstand being sprayed with weed killers such as Round-Up. Those genetically engineered crops wind up in thousands of non-organic grocery products in the form of corn syrup, sugar, canola oil or soy-based emulsifiers. Some non-organic papaya, crook neck squash and corn on the cob is also genetically modified.

"There is no evidence that there is any health issue with any of the products on the market. And there is nothing particular to the technology itself that makes it dangerous," said Kent Bradford, director of the Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis, which uses genetic engineering to develop agricultural seeds.

He dismisses the idea that there is not enough testing of genetically engineered food, saying the voluntary testing by companies that modify crops has created a pile of credible evidence.

But such tests are biased by commercial interest and too short to show the long-term impacts of eating engineered food, says anti-GMO activist Jeffrey Smith, who has written two books and made a film criticizing the technology.

Smith lives in Iowa but has been touring California promoting his work and Proposition 37. His film, "Genetic Roulette", features about a dozen doctors describing health problems – including allergies, diabetes, gastrointestinal distress and autism – they associate with eating GMOs.

"I decided strategically – because I think it's a greater motivation – to focus on the health dangers," said Smith, whose background is in marketing not science.

One solution, he said, is labeling engineered food so people know what they're eating.

Proposition 37 is more about ideology than science, said Bob Goldberg, a UCLA biologist who teaches a class on genetic engineering.

"I'm against this proposition because I'm a scientist and I'm a person who has done genetic engineering my entire career," Goldberg said. "In many respects, I don't view this as a political campaign, I view this as an anti-science campaign."

Goldberg, a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, said the organization believes it's wrong to lump all genetically engineered foods into the same category because they use the same laboratory technique. Instead, he said, the safety of crops and food products – whether the result of genetic engineering or other scientific processes – should be judged on a case-by-case basis.

A National Academy of Sciences spokeswoman said the group has not evaluated whether it's safe to eat genetically engineered food.

Goldberg points to a statement this month by the American Association for the Advancement of Science that says, "The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe."

Doctor suggests diet change

Dr. Kelly Sutton isn't convinced. She is a board-certified internist in Fair Oaks who describes her approach to medicine as "holistic," incorporating both science and spirituality.

"I've practiced for 40 years so I've come through a long stretch of seeing changes in health," Sutton said, including huge increases in allergies, skin problems and cancer.

"We are living longer but living sicker," she said.

When people come to her with such problems, Sutton said one of the first things she suggests is a change of diet, including a move toward organic and non-GMO foods. She said her patients' health usually improves.

"I am only speculating from experience," Sutton said. "There is no serious study that says genetically modified food does this but not that."

Lang, the Fair Oaks mother, said the anecdotal evidence she's seen in her son is enough for her to keep GMOs out of her kitchen by eating organic and avoiding most packaged foods.

A day after organizing a Proposition 37 rally with organic farmers last week, Lang made her family a soup of carrots, Swiss chard, broccoli and homemade chicken stock. Potatoes baked in the oven while she whipped up her own dressing for a salad and chopped mango to top fish cakes.

"Since the answers aren't there," Lang said, "I choose to proceed on a precautionary principle."
2.Support for California GMO Labeling Proposal Drops Following Industry-Funded Ad Blitz
Mike Ludwig
Truthout, 30 October 2012

Support for California's Proposition 37 ballot initiative that would require special labels for groceries containing genetically engineered ingredients has dropped dramatically since the industry-funded opponents of the proposal unleashed a statewide deluge of TV ads.

About 50 percent of California voters oppose Proposition 37 and 39 percent support the measure, according to a Pepperdine University poll released on Tuesday. In mid-September, before the industry-funded ads hit the airwaves, 67 percent of voters polled by Pepperdine supported Proposition 37. That number fell to 48 percent by early October, and now Proposition 37 is behind in the polls for the first time.

Recent Los Angeles Times/UNC Dornsife polls found similar results. Last week Proposition 37 held a slim lead at 44-42 percent with 14 percent undecided, down from 65-25 percent in mid-September.

No on 37 raised $41 million from processed food and agrichemical companies, including $8 million from Monsanto and $5.4 million from Dupont, and used the massive war chest to launch the statewide TV ad campaign. At least two California newspapers have found No on 37 ads to be "half true" or "somewhat misleading," while proponents call the anti-37 ad blitz "a massive campaign of deception and lies."

The No on 37 campaign did not respond to an inquiry from Truthout.

The Yes on 37 campaign has raised $7 million with help from producers of organic products and the alternative health web site, which sells a wide range of organic products. Working with much less money than their industry-funded opponents, the pro-37 campaign waited until the final weeks before the election to run a TV ad.

"The Pepperdine poll was taken after three weeks of deceptive opposition ads that went unanswered and before the Yes on 37 message got on the air," said Yes on 37 spokeswoman Stacey Malkan. "The world's largest pesticide and junk food companies have been spending a million dollars a day carpet bombing California with lies to confuse voters about a simple labeling law."

With Election Day only one week away, Malkan said the campaign is poised to make a comeback now that its ads are on the air.

Henry Miller Controversy

One No on 37 ad features Henry Miller, an anti-regulation expert whose resume includes arguing for the re-introduction of the pesticide DDT and founding a Phillip Morris-backed front group to discredit the links between secondhand smoke and health problems.

Miller is a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, which is housed at Stanford University, and the initial No on 37 TV spot was pulled off air and edited after Stanford complained that the ad falsely suggested the university was taking a side on the issue.

Miller was a strong supporter of biotechnology during the 15 years he served with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), where he served as founding director of the the FDA Office of Biotechnology from 1989 to 1994, according to SourceWatch. Miller routinely opposed mandatory safety testing of genetically engineered products, which are also known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The FDA has never conducted its own safety tests on the GMO crops that now dominate much of American farming.

How Much Will Proposition 37 Cost?

Much of the debate over Proposition 37 is now centered on potential drains on consumers' pocketbooks, and the Yes on 37 ad released last week has caught some criticism for claiming that Proposition 37 "doesn't cost a dime."

California's Legislative Analysis Office has estimated that administrative costs of enforcing Proposition 37 would range between a few hundred thousand dollars and $1 million annually.

Based on the state estimate, analysis promoted by the pro-37 campaign claims the administrative costs of enforcing the labeling measure would cost individual Californians 3 cents or less each year, and households would pay about $1.27 in higher grocery prices as companies update their labels.

A study paid for by the No on 37 campaign claims Proposition 37 could cause a $350 to $400 increase in grocery costs per California household, but no independent studies have confirmed those numbers.

Newspapers Endorse "No" on Proposition 37

Several major California newspapers have endorsed voting "no" on Proposition 37, saying the measure has noble intentions but is poorly drafted and could lead to costly lawsuits and put unnecessary burdens on small farmers and retailers.

The editorial boards at the San Francisco Chronicle and Silicon Valley Mercury News, for example, wrote that they have no problem with labeling genetically engineered foods, but labeling supporters should work through the state legislature to include the opinions of grocers, farmers and other stakeholders in the drafting process.

Michael Hansen, a biotech expert with the Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports and supports Proposition 37, disagreed with the newspapers and called the No on 37 ads claiming the measure will place unnecessary burdens on manufacturers and farmers "highly misleading."

"There is nothing that is actually poorly written [in Proposition 37]," Hansen told Truthout.

Hansen said that, although genetically engineered food has not been definitively proven to harm human health, regulators have not conducted long-term studies on potential human health impacts of eating GMOs, or required such studies from the industry. Hansen and other researchers are concerned about potential links between genetically engineered foods and allergies.

"People are guinea pigs, and if you want to be part of this experiment, that's fine, but you have the right to choose not to," said Hansen, who calls labels on genetically engineered foods "risk management measures" for consumers.

Hansen said the industrial farming methods used to grow genetically engineered crops have lead to a wholesale increase in the amount of pesticides used by American farmers, and some pests have become resistant to the chemicals used to kill them off.

Echoing these concerns in its editorial opposing Proposition 37, the Los Angeles Times argued that the solution to keeping the agrichemical industry in check is more research on genetically engineered crops and tougher federal oversight of the industry if necessary, but "not a label that would almost certainly raise alarm about products that haven't been shown to cause harm."

Congress and federal regulators, however, have showed little interest in toughening regulations on biotech agriculture, and the biotech lobby is known for its far-reaching influence in Washington.