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It was only a matter of time before Monsanto and the biotech industry, at risk of being forced to label food made with genetically modified ingredients, pushed back against The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act. They’re retaliation is targeting Californians where it hurts most: their wallets and the state’s poor communities.

The initiative that will be on the ballot in November as Proposition 37 could give Californians the right to have foods sold in the state containing GMOs labeled, which could seriously impair the thriving biotech industry. It would make the currently unregulated term “natural” (and any variation) not allowable on items containing GMO ingredients. That term used on genetically modified food has landed several major food producers in court over misrepresentation. The World Health Organization defines GMOs as ‘not occurring naturally.’  GMOs are now found in more than 70 percent of processed foods sold in the U.S., according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The biotech and big ag industry’s counter campaign against Proposition 37, called Stop the Costly Food Labeling Proposition, suggests that no scientific reason for labeling genetically engineered foods exists, because, they claim GMO foods are as safe as non-GMO food. Labeling GMO foods, says the campaign, will cost Californians millions of dollars, driving up food prices already rising as a result of droughts and shortages.

In an article titled “How California’s GMO Labeling Law Could Limit Your Food Choices and Hurt the Poor” on the pro-GMO website, UC Berkeley Ph.D. candidate Steve Sexton puts the onus on shoppers wanting to avoid GMOs to purchase organic foods instead: “Voluntary certified organic labels already allow consumers to avoid GE foods. Given the dramatic fissure between scientific opinion and public perception—only one in four consumers thinks GE foods are “basically safe”—a mandatory labeling regime is likely only to cripple crop science by reducing market share and revenues to GE food producers.”

Certified organic foods are by definition, free from genetically modified ingredients, but grey areas certainly exist, making it an ineffective guarantee for GMO-free foods. A product can contain an organic ingredient, which can be promoted conspicuously on the product packaging, but the rest of the ingredients do not have to be organic, and could contain genetically modified organisms.

Recent consumer polls show that most Americans want GMOs labeled. The U.S. is the only industrialized country without restrictions on genetically modified foods.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: Number Six (bill lapp)