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Is California Poised to Change the Nation's Food Landscape?

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By Gabriela Worrel / Special to LAistIn 2012, Californians may have the opportunity to vote on a grassroots ballot measure requiring food purveyors to label food when it contains genetically-modified organisms, or GMOs. GMOs are organisms that have been genetically engineered to include genes from other organisms. LabelGMOs.org serves as the effort's hub and represents the grassroots groups leading the charge to give Californians a real choice in what they eat.

For anyone who thinks GMOs are of little importance to daily life, consider this: The United States Department of Agriculture reports that on a national scale, 81-86% of all corn planted area, 88-90% of all soybean planted area and 81-93% of all upland cotton planted area are GMOs (depending on the year). Unless someone chooses to eat and wear strictly organic products, it’s likely everyone has consumed GMOs, either through their diet or by purchasing clothing. The spread of GMO crops is on the rise every year, both nationally and abroad.

The development and use of GMOs in the food system has generated controversy about the environmental and economic risks for decades, some of which are discussed in the documentary "The Future of Food." Environmental advocates warn that the prevalence of these organisms could harm ecosystems and long-term food supplies, while social watchdogs criticize the ownership of the nation’s seed supply concentrated in the hands of a few corporations - Monsanto, for example.

More recently, studies have pointed to potential long-term hazards of GMOs to human health. On that platform, groups like The Institute for Responsible Technology, The Organic Consumers Union's Millions Against Monsanto campaign and the National Organization for Women, among others, are poised to support the collection of 800,000 signatures required to get the initiative on the ballot so that every citizen in California can vote on the issue. In fact, the coalition already has more than 50 groups ready for action around the state - and more groups are forming daily. These groups are currently organizing and educating the public on the issue, and anyone can get involved in the effort. Once the initiative’s language is approved by the State of California, organizers will have 150 days to gather signatures (signature gathering will commence early 2012).

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Los Angeles is a big player in the passage of such an initiative, being the most populated county in the state and the nation. Stacey Hall, a representative of The Institute for Responsible Technolgy and a key organizer for Southern Califoria, notes that “This [effort] is fully people-powered.” She also points out that policy enacted in California is often a precursor for other states, paving the way for policy to go national. For those who want to have the choice to eat GMO-free, this could be great news, since, according to Ms. Hall, “30 other countries require mandatory labeling for GMOs. Americans are not given that choice.”

This weekend's upcoming Label GMO 2012 Campaign events are as follows.

What: Long Beach - Free Showing of The Future of Food
When: Saturday, Sept. 24 - 5pm - 7pm
Where: Catalyst Space, 430 E. 1st St., Long Beach

What: Simi Valley - Let’s Move Day
When: Sunday, Sept. 25th 8am-1pm
Where: Simi Valley’s Community Garden 1636 Sinaloa Rd. 805.915.8678
Email if you want to help out.

What: W. Los Angeles - Rally Planning Meeting
When: Sunday, Sept 25 at 3pm
Where: The Novel Cafe 2127 Lincoln Ave, Santa Monica, Ca 90405



We'll continue to report on campaign updates and upcoming events, so please stay tuned!Gabriela Worrel writes about environmental and urban planning issues. She lives, gardens, and drinks lots of coffee in Los Angeles, California.