This guest post was written by Buffy Tarbox of the California Right to Know 2012 Ballot Initiative, which Global Exchange is an endorser of.

Thousands of volunteers across California have mobilized to gather signatures for a ballot initiative to require labeling of any food or food product that contains genetically engineered food.

This simple, common sense measure would provide consumers valuable information and allow them to make a choice to purchase genetically engineered food or not. It is supported by a vast coalition of family farmers, mothers, families, public health advocates, environmental organizations, and individuals.

A genetically engineered food is a plant or animal that has had its DNA altered to include genes that produce foreign compounds from other plants, animals, viruses, or bacteria. This genetic alteration is not found in nature and cannot occur naturally. Californians unknowingly eat many different genetically engineered foods, because these foods are not required to be labeled and are often incorrectly advertised as “natural.” The top nine genetically engineered foods in the U.S. are corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, sugar beets, alfalfa, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash.

Independent studies show that genetically engineering food can create new, unintended toxicants and increase allergens and other health problems. For example, in 2011, Canadian researchers found that 93% of blood samples from pregnant women and 80% of fetal cord blood samples contained a toxin found in a genetically engineered corn that produces its own pesticide (Bt corn). By labeling genetically engineered food, we can help identify if these foods are causing any health problems.

A poll conducted by Reuters in November 2010 indicated that over 93 percent of Americans support the labeling of genetically engineered foods as a basic right to know what’s in their food and how it is produced. Right now we have no way of knowing if food is genetically engineered or not. Americans have been in the dark about genetically engineered ingredients in their food. With this initiative, Californians have the chance at the ballot box to restore the consumer’s right to know what is in their food.

The overwhelming bipartisan support for this measure clearly shows that Californians want to know what is in their food, and want to be able to choose to buy genetically engineered food and not have the choice made for them by companies who are refusing to disclose the ingredients in their food products

To suggest this measure will be costly or extreme is scaremongering and an attempt to divert attention from our fundamental right to know what we are eating and feeding our families. In the past food wasn’t labeled with calorie or nutritional information, but it is now, and most consumers use this information every day. Companies change their product labeling all the time. The ballot initiative simply requires food producers to also label food that is produced with genetic engineering.

Fifty countries already require labeling of genetically engineered foods, including the European Union countries, Japan and China. California should be a leader on this important issue here in the United States.

According to the Grocery Manufacturing Association, an estimated 75 to 80 percent of processed food in the United States contains genetically engineered ingredients. Genetically engineered salmon and many other food products will be introduced to the market shortly.

Currently, consumers lack any ability to distinguish these products from their natural counterparts. That is why this ballot initiative is so important. Transparency is a fundamental principle in a democratic society.

For more information on how to get involved please visit