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Monday, September 17, 2012

California Proposition 37 - Required Reading or Not?

One reason it's so hard to find a good tomato in the supermarket is because tomatoes are a  genetically modified crop. In fact they are the first commercially grown GMO food. In 1994, Calgene, made the tomato resistant to rotting and renamed it the Flavr Savr. 

But despite the fact that there are 7500 varieties of tomato hybrids, in my opinion, tomatoes with flavor are still hard to find outside farmers' markets.

Hybrids result from cross breeding through  pollination and evolutionary changes. Think Gregory Mendel and  Charles Darwin.  Once considered "abominations of nature" they pale in comparison to the "Franken-foods" being created today. Genetically modified foods result from gene cloning and protein engineering. They  cross the species barrier. Although some modifications enhance nutritional values, plants are more often developed to contain natural pesticides than natural flavor. 

The creation of new plants was first protected by Congress in 1970 when they passed the Plant Variety Protection Act. This allowed breeders to obtain Certificates of Protection for new plant varieties and provided protection for twenty years. Subsequently, a 1980 Supreme Court decision allowed the patenting of "anything under the sun made by man". This case, which involved a microbiological invention for treating oil spills, also made the patenting of seeds legal. In a 1988 clarification, the PTO (Patent and Trademark Office) announced that: “[t]he Patent and Trademark Office now considers non-naturally occurring non-human multi cellular living organisms, including animals, to be patentable subject matter within the scope of 35 U.S.C. 101.”

There are two key patents that relate to the development of GMO crops. They were issued to Dilip Shah of the Monsanto Company on July 10, 1990, and February 23, 1993, "for genetically altering plant seeds so that the plants are resistant to glyphosate-containing herbicides."  This allowed the herbicides to be applied to plants to selectively target weeds without killing crops. Proceeding from that, plants are now grown containing herbicides within the seed. 

It has been estimated that upwards of 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves–from soda to soup, crackers to condiments–contain genetically engineered ingredients.  Specifically, there are 14 engineered foods allowed on the market:  canola, corn, soy, alfalfa, papaya, zucchini, squash, sugar beet, chicory, cotton, flax, potato, rice, and tomato.  In addition to these crops are dairy cattle treated with hormones. 

So the pesticide argument that makes some people choose to buy organic can be applied to GMO foods which not only contain pesticides on them, but in them.  California has placed Proposition 37 on the November, 2012, ballot to provide consumers insight into what they are eating by requiring the labeling of food that is produced through genetic modification as GMO.

What to do with this information is a personal choice, but at least it can be an educated one in California. I think GMO food labeling should be required reading.


Article first published as California Proposition 37 - Required Reading or Not? on Technorati. 




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