Proposition 37, which would mandate labeling of genetically engineered food, is a good example of the mischief that can by done through the tyranny of words.
Calling something “genetically engineered” sounds somehow like something Dr. Evil would do. But what if Proposition 37 required the labeling of “genetically improved” food? That would raise such questions as: Why would such a measure be required in the first place? The United States has the safest food supply in the world, and that food supply includes many products that have been genetically altered or improved.
Corn, for example, was first cultivated when it was a grass with a head not much larger than we find on wheat. Over centuries, Indians, and later farmers and plant geneticists improved corn to be the plant it is today. Almost nothing about a corn plant is natural, as many people understand natural to mean. Seed corn is still being studied, carefully grown in laboratory conditions, in hopes of making it an even more useful plant than it is now.
Plant breeders have improved apples, pears, peaches, plums, figs, dates, almonds, peanuts, tomatoes, grapes — all by means of genetics — the careful selection of specimens which have the characteristics desired. These characteristics could include size, disease resistance, flavor, shelf life, ease of harvest, ease of processing and weather hardiness, along with many others.
The gala apple, for example, was clonally propagated for its mild and sweet flavor, and for its crispness. It began as a cross in New Zealand, and became what today is the second most popular apple in the United States, even though it wasn’t grown here commercially before 1974.
Would we have to label gala apples and corn as “genetically engineered?” Could someone be sued because he or she forgot to paste “genetically engineered” labels on them?
Yes, some of the work of geneticists is done in modern laboratories now, and the advantage is that genetic selections can be better controlled.
And, yes, some are concerned that such lab-based selections might create plants that would make people sick. But there’s no proof of that.
Proposition 37, as it is written, despite claims by its backers, would create problems for those who grow, process and sell food of all kinds. It deserves a “no” vote.