People Speak: Organic farmers push California bill to label ‘Frankenfoods’
By Douglas Kennedy
To Steve Sprinkel, you are what you eat.
“It’s important (to know),” he said as he looked out across his organic farm in Ojai, Calif. “That’s how I’ve lived my entire life.”
Sprinkel has been an organic farmer for 26 years. He says these days, it’s difficult to tell what you’re eating because foods “aren’t labeled properly” — particularly, he says, the genetically altered ones.
“They’ve never been analyzed for human health,” he said.
Sprinkel and other organic farmers in California are now supporting Prop 37, a state ballot measure that would require most genetically modified foods sold in California be labeled as such.
“We are skeptics,” he said about the Food and Drug Administration’s claims that genetically modified foods are safe. “We just really don’t believe what the government says when the government says they are safe.”
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Not everyone thinks a new labeling system is necessary or even helpful, though.
“Nonsense,” said Brandon Castillo, a spokesman for the opposing “No on 37” campaign. “There is no scientific justification for labels.”
He said the labels are simply a way to scare consumers. “Requiring a label on a product implies that there is something wrong with these foods when the science, when the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association all says there is not. “
Castillo said modifying crops has been practiced by farmers since they first planted seeds.
“If you get into the history of this, we’ve been genetically modifying crops for thousands of years. In recent decades through biology and modern science, we’re able to be much more efficient and frankly safer about it,” he said.
He said Sprinkel and his fellow organics have a “hidden agenda”
“We think the true motive … is to ban these foods,” he said. “The proponents of these are anti-science extremists who want to ban these perfectly safe foods.”
But Sprinkel said he just wants to give “people a choice.”
“The label is the equivalent of this product may contain nuts for people who may have allergies,” he said, pointing out over a million people in California signed the petition to get the measure on the 2012 ballot.
“More than a million people in California want to know whether or not they are eating genetically modified foods,” he says. “It’s just really a consumer right to know. They’ve been around for 20 years there’s an awful lot of doubt that consumers want settled at point of purchase.”
As for a hidden agenda, he says people should be able to eat whatever they want. “But they should know what they’re eating,” he said.
“There are a lots of labels we can put on foods,” countered Castillo. “But these packages are small and we think consumers can be overwhelmed and confused unless we reserve the labels for important information.”
He also said it’s going to cost money to re-label packaging.
“That extra cost is going to be passed onto the consumer,” he said. “Our studies show that it is going to increase costs by billions of dollars, hundreds per family, really for no health or safety benefits.”