Millions of Americans will vote today on everything from governors to drain commissioners. As they do, they’ll want to make sure they’re advancing their own interests and principles—and not the schemes and agendas of others.
This is especially true in states that permit ballot initiatives, which can involve complicated regulations that even informed citizens struggle to comprehend.
In Colorado and Oregon, for instance, voters may pull the lever for higher grocery-store prices, even as they think they’re doing something else entirely.
That’s the real story behind a pair of referenda that would require foods with genetically modified ingredients to carry special warning labels. In Colorado, they call it “Proposition 105.” In Oregon, it goes by the name of “Measure 92.”
Whatever the monikers, these are bad ideas that deserve to lose.
Supporters of Proposition 105 and Measure 92 try to promote a simple message: People have the right to know what’s in their food. This is certainly true, and food packaging already displays clear and concise nutritional information. Consumers can count calories and investigate ingredients. That’s a good thing.
Yet the proponents of these initiatives make a separate claim: Food with GM ingredients, they insist, should display special warning labels.
This is absurd. It presumes that millions of farmers like me—a longtime Iowan who recently transplanted to California—grow harmful food that Americans ought to shun.
In truth, GM crops allow farmers to grow more food on less land than ever before. This is the essence of environmental sustainability. Moreover, GM foods are safe and healthy. They’ve won endorsements from every serious group that has studied them, such as the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the World Health Organization.
On top of it all, consumers who want to avoid food with GM ingredients already have an excellent option. They can buy organic. Under federal rules, food labeled “organic” cannot contain GM ingredients.
So Proposition 105 and Measure 92 are solutions in search of a problem.
Yet they’d create wholly new problems, starting with prices. If these initiatives pass, they will force the cost of food to go up. Studies show that ordinary families could see their food bills go up by hundreds of dollars per year, due to the increased costs of packaging, warehousing, and reformulation.
Is that your agenda? Do you want to support a labeling law that will provide no useful information to consumers but drive up food prices for everyone? Will this help the unemployed, the underemployed, or seniors on fixed incomes? Is this what our sluggish economy needs right now?
Other agendas are in fact at work—and for as much as the supporters of Proposition 105 and Measure 92 like to talk about the importance of transparency, they keep their actual motives hidden, far from public view.
The organic food industry, for example, would love to see voters pass these initiatives, on the theory that warning labels will compel misinformed consumers to flock toward their pricier products. They are among the leading financial backers of these initiatives.
Then there are the ideological radicals—the people who see warning labels as a political cause, as well as the first step toward the more ambitious goal of banning GM food completely. Their goal, in the end, is not to expand choices for consumers, but to restrict them.
Last week, just down the road from me, the Los Angeles City Council passed a motion to draft an ordinance to prohibit the growth of genetically modified crops. The move is symbolic—the biggest farms within the city limits of Los Angeles are gardens—but it represents the strong undercurrents of a movement that doesn’t intend to stop with mere warning labels.
Two years ago, voters in California saw through the propaganda and rejected a GM labeling law. Last year, voters in Washington State did the same.
Now it’s up to Colorado and Oregon voters to side with consumers and farmers rather than higher food prices and special-interest groups. They should vote down Proposition 105 and Measure 92.
Reg Clause is a Jefferson, Iowa farmer and business consultant. He volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).