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Prop 37’s Impact on Food Prices Uncertain

Proponents dispute claim that GMO measure will increase shoppers’ costs

Proposition 37, the state ballot measure requiring labels on genetically modified food, has revived a long-simmering debate about whether genetically modified food harm human health or the environment.

grocery checkout line Photo by Kai HendryTrading of food commodities on Wall Street is to blame for high prices, not the prospect of a label on
the package, says Miguel Altieri, agroecology professor at University of California, Berkeley.

But it’s the claim by opponents of the measure, including large manufacturers and agribusinesses, that food prices would skyrocket if the proposition passes that is riling proponents, mostly environmentalists, public health groups and farmers.

Proponents of labeling say the real problem with food prices is the longstanding monopoly control of agribusiness corporations, which hold genetically modified seed patents. Their influence on growers and food producers has artificially boosted costs, and any added cost of a label would be minor in comparison.

Whatever the effect on food prices for genetically modified and non-modified foods, drawing consumers’ attention to the distinction will provide them with a choice that could affect the economics of agriculture in California and beyond. It could give producers of organic and other non-modified crops a marketing advantage, and possibly a boost to their business.

“I think that when people have a choice, many people will opt out of the genetic engineering experiment, and that will benefit farmers who grow non-genetically-engineered varieties,” said Julie Cummins, education director at the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture.

The San Francisco-based nonprofit group, which runs the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, tells prospective vendors that their products “cannot knowingly contain genetically modified ingredients” or seed stock.

The No on 37 campaign, which gets most of its funding from food manufacturers and agricultural and chemical businesses such as Monsanto and DuPont, contends that the labels would force food manufacturers to buy more expensive ingredients to avoid having to put the scary-sounding warning on their products.

The anti-labeling campaign points to an economic study claiming that the change would increase annual grocery prices by $350 to $400 for the average California family.

Proponents of the measure, of course, dispute that claim.

The Yes on 37 campaign, endorsed by some food retailers and manufacturers, farmers markets and other consumer organizations, says labeling would not increase food costs for either manufacturers or consumers.

Miguel Altieri, a professor of agroecology at University of California, Berkeley, said trading of food commodities on Wall Street by corporations is to blame for high prices, not the prospect of a label on the package.

“Food prices have been increasing in the last two, three years all over the world, and more than 30 percent per year,” Altieri said. He said corporations that hold proprietary rights to genetically modified organisms control the commercial food system, and the markets.

Some San Francisco Bay Area farmers said the dominance of genetically altered crops in the food market reduces consumer choices.

“It’s conferring ownership of our food resources to a few corporate vested interests,” said Al Courchesne, owner of Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood, who sells organic fruit at farmers markets in San Francisco and Berkeley. “Eventually that’s going to increase the cost of food for all human beings.”

But the economics of food can be complicated, agricultural economists say. Some experts in Northern California argue that prices of food have fallen because genetic modification saves farmers money.

Colin Carter, director of the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics at University of California, Davis, said genetic engineering has allowed farmers to produce crops with fewer chemicals and improve yields.

“Ninety percent of soybean farmers are using this technology,” Carter said. “There must be some benefit to them.”

But ecological concerns persist. Some local farmers who eschew genetically modified crops say the proliferation of artificial genes in neighboring fields could ruin their crops. Scientists have found that in some instances modified pollen can blow in the wind and contaminate natural crops, making produce unfit to sell as organic.

Farmers markets in other cities are going the way of San Francisco’s. The Ecology Center, an environmental organization that operates farmers’ markets in Berkeley and Albany, also bans food containing genetically modified organisms.

Ben Feldman, the organization’s program manager, said the decision was largely customer-driven, but also tied to what environmentalists call the “precautionary principle.”

“Until we have good information that something is very safe,” Feldman said, “we should be cautious about using it.”

This article was produced as a collaboration between Bay Nature, Earth Island Journal and the San Francisco Public Press.

Ambika Kandasamy
Ambika Kandasamy is a reporter and an assistant news editor at the San Francisco Public Press, where she reports on international development, scientific research and local culture. She was awarded the Women Immigrants Fellowship by New America Media this year. Her work has appeared on KQED News, Christian Science Monitor, GreenBiz, Shareable, World Journal and other news websites. She received her master's degree in Journalism from Boston University in 2010.

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Comments

In 1980 the U S Supreme Court ruled that GMO seeds could be patented.  Wow, patented seeds?  Just think if you could control the worlds food supply through patented seed?  Well now you have some insight into the motive of these worldwide corporations like Monsanto, Dupont and others.  We worry about Enviornmental disasters but this is a genetic disaster of much larger and irreversible proportion.
Food is our medicine and it is being altered to make people sick.
Note the FDA allows these corporations to police themselves!  Thats right, no FDA testing.
VOTE YES TO LABEL FOOD AS GMO AND LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE

By JCW on Mon, October 29, 2012 at 5:10 pm

SwagSwag this guy cray smart

By Jimmy Jiblets on Mon, October 29, 2012 at 12:20 pm

I’ve been supporting Prop 37 since I first heard of it… and these increased food costs are bogus!  Seriously, if you have friends doubting Prop 37 and believing the crap Monsanto wants us to believe, just tell them who is representing those companies… a known liar for hire! There are several organizations working hard to help spread the word of the people to fight against this corporate dominance. KnowGMO.org for instance has hundreds of videos on their site with interviews of local farmers and regular Californians expressing their opinions on GMO labeling. Their idea is to promote “people powered media” to counter the massively funded libelous ads put out by companies and special interests with their own agendas. Check out the site or share it with your friends if you feel the need to help pass this bill! Yes on 37! And yes on KnowGMO.org ...Don’t allow big money to drown out the rights of us people!

By Concerned Californian on Mon, October 29, 2012 at 11:57 am

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