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Californians to vote on genetically modified foods labelling

13 June 2012

Voters in California will soon have to decide whether special labels are required for food made from genetically modified ingredients.

California's secretary has announced that the 'Right to Know' initiative will be on the state's November 2012 ballot. If it passes, California will be the first US state requiring labelling of a wide range of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The initiative would require most processed foods to bear a label by 2014 explaining to shoppers that they contain ingredients derived from plants whose DNA was altered with genes from other plants, animals, viruses or bacteria.

Certified organic foods and alcohol would be exempt from labelling, as would meat and dairy products if the animals had been fed with genetically engineered grains, which the initiative's opponents say amounts to a loophole.

According to recent polls, nine out of ten voters in the US back special labelling for GMO food and an April poll by San Francisco TV station KCBS found that 91% of those polled support the special labelling.

The Right to Know initiative is backed by consumers, health and environmental groups, businesses and farmers, and aims to give consumers more information about what they are eating, fostering transparency and trust in the food system.

The US currently does not provide consumers with simple labels that inform them if their food has been genetically engineered, while more than 40 other countries, including all of Europe, Japan and even China already label genetically engineered food.

Comments were submitted by more than one million people to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in March 2012 on a petition for mandatory labelling of genetically engineered foods, and 20 other states have tried to legislate the labelling to no avail.