While most voters were following the presidential and U.S. Senate races on November 6, those interested in food safety were keeping a close eye on a ballot measure in California. Proposition 37, an initiative that would have mandated the labeling of most foods containing genetically modified ingredients, was soundly defeated, with 53% of initial votes rejecting the measure.
Support among voters had reached as high as 60% in polls, but a blizzard of negative advertising, mostly from food and biotech companies such as Monsanto, DuPont, Kraft, and PepsiCo, appeared to have swayed Californians at the polls. Had it passed, Proposition 37 might have been the catalyst for a larger national movement to label genetically modified foods.
One opponent to the measure was the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In a statement released October 20, the group declared that “crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.” To support its assertion, AAAS pointed to a recent research report from the European Union, which has spent more than £300 million studying the biosafety of genetically modified foods.
“The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies,” according to the report.
But the scientific community was not completely united on the issue. A group of 21 well-known scientists, led by Patricia Hunt, PhD, of the Center for Reproductive Biology at Washington State University in Pullman, released a statement on November 1 that challenged the AAAS.
“Our experience with other well-studied consumer products (tobacco, asbestos, bisphenol A, phthalates) demonstrates that a large number of tests provide no guarantee of safety,” they wrote. “Typically, evidence of harm has only emerged when testing has been conducted independently of those who benefit from the product or practice.”