The small crowd at Monticello at 630 G St. was vocal during the discussion about Proposition 37 on Oct. 21. Earlier that day Monticello hosted a small Food Day event, in which various farms showed up and sold organic food.
The Prop. 37 campaign advocates “The Right to Know.” The proposition was drafted in order to label genetically-modified foods, or GMOs. It gained support from a number of organic food growers, who would be exempt from the proposition, but the opposition ranges from Pepsi Co. to DuPont.
Many people seemed to have made up their minds already about the initiative.
“I have a strong hate for GMOs,” said Robert Winiecki, owner of High Grade Harvest, an organic plant supply store.
Becky Winters, owner of Bliss Creations, a local raw dessert business, had a similar opinion.
“I think people have the right to make an informed decision,” she said.
This was Monticello’s first Food Day event after the announcement of “National Food Day” last year. The event was a small precursor to the discussion, starting at 4 p.m. and lasting over two hours.
The panel discussion, hosted by UC Davis Slow Food, was there to increase awareness about GMOs. The panelists included two organic farmers, Sally Fox and Jim Eldon; Tom Fendley, who is the political director for Prop. 37; and Dr. Kent Bradford, director of the Seed Biotechnology Center and a professor at UC Davis. Desmond Jolly, a UC Davis agricultural economist, moderated the discussion.
Many of the panelists discussed reasons for wanting foods labeled, including not knowing what was in such foods, and the ability of genetically-modified crops to have adverse affects on the environment.
The proponents of Prop. 37 state that this labeling process would not be as difficult as some might say.
“Indeed, in spite of the efforts of the opponent to present the issue as incredibly complicated, it actually is not,” Fendley said. “When you set aside the question of if these foods are ‘safe’ or [the question of cost], when you set all that aside it really is rather simple. At the end of the day it is about giving consumers the right to choose.”
However, Dr. Bradford came back to Fendley’s point by saying that the system for enforcing the proposition would be through legal action and civil suits.
“[The proposition would require] a string of affidavits all the way back to the farmer,” Dr. Bradford said.
Some of the audience members were concerned that the initiative did not go far enough in labeling dairy, meat or alcohol.
“We can’t legally cover those, they are governed under different laws,” Fendley said.
Dr. Bradford, on the other hand, pointed out some key issues with the proposition itself.
“Mandated labeling is very important, but now we’re talking about labeling food that ‘may have been’ produced using genetic engineering. I don’t know how you could be any more vague to a consumer,” Dr. Bradford said. “Every fruit tree in the state is often two different species. I personally don’t think it’s so strange that we can graft a small piece of a chromosome to another species.”
Monsanto was invited to the event, but did not attend.
Fendley listed agricultural businesses Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer and BASF as the main contributors against Prop. 37.
“They have a grip on political power in this country,” Fendley said. “That’s why it is such a great opportunity not to count on elected officials who are heavily influenced by these companies.”
Monsanto and others have contributed over $30 million to the No on Prop. 37 campaign, while the support for Prop. 37 has raised a little under $10 million.
JULIE WEBB can be reached at email@example.com.