Monday Tracks: GMO Debate Rages On After Prop 37 Failure

FILE - This Oct. 2, 2002, file photo shows labeling stating no genetically engineered ingredients on a box of Erewhon Crispy
FILE - This Oct. 2, 2002, file photo shows labeling stating no genetically engineered ingredients on a box of Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice Cereal in San Francisco. A bill proposed in Washington state to require labeling of genetically modified foods has a new group of supporters this year _ wheat farmers _ giving food safety advocates fresh hope that lawmakers will get behind the effort. Those so-called "foodies" have been pushing legislation to require labeling for years, both at the national level and in statehouses around the country, and in nearly all cases they've been soundly rejected. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

Welcome again to my (relatively) new blog: Toxic Tracks. Here, I'm posting short bits of daily news and commentary on environmental health topics. Please send along any thoughts or feedback via email or Twitter.

California's Proposition 37 sparked a heated national debate last year over the labeling of genetically modified foods, or GMOs. Despite the ballot measure's failure in November, the controversy is far from over. A few headlines I'm tracking...

  • Many anti-GMO advocates are finding their narrow defeat wasn't a complete loss. Even if foods containing GMOs don't yet require a label, non-GMO foods are now more commonly labeled as such. The Orange County Register interviewed Megan Westgate, director of the Non-GMO Project:

"More and more vendors are starting to label if their ingredients are non-GMO because they know that's what our industry is asking for," she said. "It's a huge trend. It's just truth in labeling."

If a GMO labeling law goes into effect in any state, it's likely to impact the entire country, being that food companies are unlikely to produce special packaging and labeling for only one state. However, the scenario that one state's laws would make GMO labeling the norm is much more likely with a state as large as California.

  • Farmers took their battle against Monsanto to Washington, D.C. last week, asking the federal court to reconsider granting legal protection from lawsuits filed by the biotech giant. Monsanto patents GMO seeds, and when those seeds end up on an unlicensed farm -- intentionally, or via the wind -- the company often takes legal action against those growers. This particularly frustrates organic farmers, who say that the wind-blown GM pollen threatens their crops. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the 200-some protesters had further demands:

Protesters announced that another rally will take place on Jan. 21 with a march on the National Mall demanding that Obama follow through with what they say was his promise in 2007 to seek labeling of food with genetically modified ingredients... Creve Coeur-based Monsanto spent at least $8 million in an industry-wide effort to sink the California proposition.

  • Meanwhile, a leading voice in the anti-GMO movement has switched sides. Earlier this month, Mark Lynas gave a speech at a conference on farming at Oxford University in which he apologized for "having spent several years ripping up GM crops." His reversal has sparked yet more chatter from both sides over the biotechnology. A post by the New York Times' Andy Revkin includes video of the speech. A few excerpts, as prepared for delivery at Oxford:

When I first heard about Monsanto's GM soya I knew exactly what I thought. Here was a big American corporation with a nasty track record, putting something new and experimental into our food without telling us. Mixing genes between species seemed to be about as unnatural as you can get - here was humankind acquiring too much technological power; something was bound to go horribly wrong. These genes would spread like some kind of living pollution. It was the stuff of nightmares.

What we didn't realize at the time was that the real Frankenstein's monster was not GM technology, but our reaction against it.