CIRS Blog about Rural California
Although Aunt Mabel’s Christmas trifle might top your list of current food concerns, there are a few other things about U.S. food and agriculture worth considering as you look back on 2012, and forward to 2013:
The future outlook for agriculture is bright. Food production will have to roughly double by 2050 in order to meet population projections. And if we look where much of that growth is expected to occur–Asia–we know that California farmers and ranchers will have an excellent opportunity to meet the new demand. But there will be challenges, too, as increased food production will have to occur with diminishing arable land suitable for farming, pressures on water quality and availability, potential shortages of mineral inputs, and climate change.
Labeling is — for both sides — a proxy to a much bigger issue, which is the expansion of genetically engineered corn, cotton and soybeans that now blanket 170 million acres in the United States. The GMO genie is well out of the bottle, but the Obama administration now stands on the brink of approving a whole new generation of genetically engineered crops that are resistant to an older generation of herbicides known as 2,4-D and dicamba. This fight is less about the safety of foods for human consumption than with unintended environmental consequences of genetically engineered (GE) crops. These include super weeds, the decline of the monarch butterfly and the impending massive use of the older and more volatile herbicides.
The current generation of crops engineered to tolerate Monsanto’s RoundUp herbicide, or glyphosate, has led to the evolution of resistant super weeds, now rampant across the South and Midwest. Farmers are clamoring for new engineered crops that also resist World War II era herbicides 2, 4-D and dicamba, more volatile compounds that drift in the air and kill any broadleaf plant in their path. Although Dow Agrosciences claims that the new versions are less volatile, non-GMO farmers in the Save Our Crops Coalition have petitioned the administration to deny approval.
The debate over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) is heating up in California and across the nation. According to a recent New York Times article, more than twelve states are proposing bills that would require the labeling of food containing GMO's. The biggest battle is slated to take place in California, where the organization California Right to Know announced that they collected "971,126 signatures for the state's first-ever ballot initiative to require labeling of genetically engineered foods." The article in the New York Times states that "tens of millions of dollars are expected to be spent on the election showdown" in California.
According to the California Right to Know 2012 Ballot Initiative official website: "The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act is simple: The initiative would require food sold in retail outlets such as grocery stores (not including restaurants) to be labeled if it is produced with genetic engineering. In addition to this disclosure, genetically engineered foods are prohibited from being advertised as 'natural.'"
However, the fight over the ballot initiative in November may not be so simple. A recent blog post on "The Salt," National Public Radio's (NPR) food blog, suggests that the legislation may cause more confusion than clarity for Californians. "A new analysis of the labeling initiative suggests that if it passes, it would create a complex mandate for food companies that may make it harder — not easier — for consumers to figure out what's really in their food. That's because the initiative muddies the definition of a "natural" food."