There have been a series of allegations against the "No on 37" campaign, which was forced to pull a TV ad that wrongly suggested Stanford University endorsed the anti-labeling view of a professor. Proponents of the measure also say that the "No on 37" campaign made false statements in the official state voters guide.
Meanwhile, similar accusations have been lobbed at the "Yes on 37!" campaign. A University of California, Riverside, professor told the campaign on Friday that it was misrepresenting a National Academy of Sciences report he authored. The report, according to the campaign, concluded that genetic engineering poses health threats. But the professor, Alan McHughen, said the report made that claim for all forms of breeding. "There is no scientific basis for singling out GE (or any other method of breeding) for special treatment," McHughen wrote in a letter to the campaign.
Labeling, proponents say, goes beyond just sticking a few words on a food package. It is about a consumer's right to know, they say, and essential given some questions surrounding the safety of genetically modified foods.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has long said genetically modified foods are equivalent to conventionally produced or bred food, and that there is no clear evidence that genetically modified foods cause illness or allergies.
But the agency does not require safety testing, and skeptics of genetically modified foods say they want long-term studies to determine whether the foods are safe, a costly proposition that the industry is unlikely to embark on.
"The industry says we've done our homework. But the truth is no one has done the homework," said Jonathan Emord, a Washington-based lawyer who represents food companies. "This whole circumstance arises from the failure of the FDA to require safety testing."
In the absence of that testing, many consumers say they want labels. And if they're required in the nation's biggest market, the thinking goes, food companies could choose to reformulate their recipes using nongenetically modified ingredients. That could mean a reduction in demand, and a hit to the bottom line for companies such as Monsanto and DuPont.
But some analysts say that could be overstating the matter. While food manufacturers in the European Union, where labels are required, have chosen to reformulate their products rather than label them, in other countries, where companies have chosen to label, consumers don't seem to care.
"Anywhere in the world where manufacturers have followed that strategy, such as China or Brazil, we have not seen an impact on demand," said Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, a University of Missouri economist who has written extensively on the subject. "But in other countries, in Japan and Europe, food manufacturers have chosen to avoid the label, so in that case, they reformulate and pass the cost on to customers."
Monsanto has said it endorses labeling genetically modified foods in the European Union, where consumers have demanded it. But in the U.S., Monsanto and its competitors have clearly taken a different position.
And if the California measure passes on Tuesday, it will likely be challenged right away.
"The industry trade groups are keenly watching," Emord said. "They have teams of lawyers here working on this. I'd be flabbergasted if a month goes by without a suit in federal court challenging this."
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