California Genetically Modified Food Labeling Law Goes to Vote

Petition aimed against biotech companies gained 970,000 signatures

Californians will vote this Election Day on whether genetically modified (GM) food must be labeled, after more than 970,000 people signed a petition to get the proposal on the ballot, says Businessweek.

The campaign is gaining speed after the FDA rejected a similar petition last month; 19 other similar bills have failed in other states. The California initiatve, spearheaded by the California Right to Know campaign, is directed toward agricultural and biotech companies who "are desperate to keep the public in the dark about what is really in their food," said Right to Know manager Gary Ruskin.

If the bill is passed, new food labels would have to say "made with genetic engineering"; the changes would also go on alcohol and meat products from animals fed with engineered feed. Some estimates say that up to 80 percent of foods use modified ingredients. The new label "would be the equivalent of a skull and crossbones" for consumers to avoid GM ingredients, said Right to Know campaign founder Joseph Mercola on its web site.

In response, one spokesperson for the biotech company Monsato said the proposal is "misleading consumers into thinking products are not safe when in fact they are." Others say the proposal would hurt the large biotech industry, which is worth nearly $13.3 billion.