April 23, 2014 23:59 UTC

Science & Technology

California Voters Reject Food Labeling Requirement

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About 80 percent of the packaged foods on American supermarket shelves contain ingredients from genetically modified organisms, says the Grocery Manufacturers AssociationAbout 80 percent of the packaged foods on American supermarket shelves contain ingredients from genetically modified organisms, says the Grocery Manufacturers Association
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About 80 percent of the packaged foods on American supermarket shelves contain ingredients from genetically modified organisms, says the Grocery Manufacturers Association
About 80 percent of the packaged foods on American supermarket shelves contain ingredients from genetically modified organisms, says the Grocery Manufacturers Association

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From VOA Learning English, this is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in Special English. I’m Bob Doughty.
 
And I’m Faith Lapidus. Today, we tell about an effort to require food producers to identify genetically engineered foods. We also tell about a study of wild tigers in Nepal. And we tell about a newly identified animal species.
 
Food activists say everyone has a right to know what they are eating. A few weeks ago we reported on an effort by food activists in the American state of California. They wanted California voters to approve a requirement that food manufacturers identify food made from genetically engineered crops.
 
In September, studies of likely voters had shown most people agreed with the proposed law. But on election-day, fifty-three percent of voters rejected it. Only forty-seven percent supported the call for labels to identify foods containing genetically modified organisms or GMOs. The measure would have identified such foods, but not banned them. 
 
Food activists say money heavily influenced the election results. They say some food manufacturers gave false information to voters. They also say local newspapers were influenced by manufacturers that buy large amounts of advertising.
 
Both sides fought to win support from the public. Here is part of a television ad paid for by opponents of the proposal.

“They’re at it again. Special interests pushing a proposition that would create more government red tape, more government law suits and higher costs. This time it’s ‘Prop 37’ – a food labeling scheme written by trial lawyers to benefit trial lawyers. Thirty-seven would ban thousands of common food products in California unless they are specially relabeled to meet complex, new requirements and restrictions that would only exist in our state.”
 
Supporters of the measure included cooks from television food shows and even movie actors.

“What makes you think you have the right to know? I don’t think you have the right to know. Who do you think you are? Do you want the truth? You can’t handle the truth. Your puny little head would explode. They are just some things you shouldn’t know about, like what’s in your food. Why would you want to know what’s in your food? You shouldn’t know whether your food is genetically modified. It’s kind of none of your business.”
 
GMOs have been part of the food supply in the United States since nineteen eighty-seven, when genetically engineered tomatoes were first sold. Genetic engineering is the technology of changing the genes of living things. Scientists use special technologies to place genetic material from one species into another.
Some food crops now contain genes from other plants or even genes from fish or animals. Now almost all cooking oils include GMOs. One expert estimates that about seventy percent of food sold in the United States contains one or more GMOs.
 
The United States is not among the more than sixty countries that require labels to identify whether a food has been genetically modified. Japan requires such labeling if more than five percent of a food or food product contains GMOs. In India, lawmakers are working on a plan that would require labeling for even smaller amounts of GMOs.
 
Opponents of the California plan argued that food would cost more if manufacturers were required to label foods that have genetically modified organisms. Food activists say existing label laws have not increased the price of food. They say the labels give buyers important information. Some manufacturers already label their products so buyers will know the food does not contain a GMO.
 
Scientists have high hopes for the healthful effects of genetically engineered food. However, food activists continue to call for more testing. Until the long term safety of eating GMOs is confirmed, they want people to make informed choices about what they buy and eat.
 
An example of this kind of dispute was in the news recently. Working together, American and Chinese scientists genetically engineered rice to include beta carotene, a substance that helps humans make vitamin A. The researchers found that Chinese children who ate the modified rice increased their levels of vitamin A. Children whose food does not provide enough Vitamin A can go blind and even die. 
 
Scientists are excited about the positive effects of the genetically modified rice. However, the environmental group Greenpeace has criticized the experiment. It says the safety of genetically-modified foods over time has never been confirmed.
 
Greenpeace and natural food activists say they want the government, and not food manufacturers, to test the safety of GMOs. They point to the history of tobacco companies in the United States. After a series of cases, courts found that tobacco companies had lied about the cancer risk of cigarettes for many years.
 
The dispute over GMOs has divided organic farmers and food markets. Farms and food producers must earn the right to claim their food is organic or free of chemicals. The largest organic food businesses object to labeling GMOs. They say a food can be natural and organic even if it has been genetically engineered.
                                                                    
Activists say testing is necessary because a food cannot be considered safe until all the risks are understood. Manufacturers base their safety claims on a ninety-day testing period. Activists say the tests are not long enough to show all the possible effects.
 
For years, wildlife experts have said that tigers avoid living close to people. But a new study disputes the belief that these animals need lots of people-free space. 
 
The study appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The findings are considered important because there are only about three thousand two hundred wild tigers in the world. That is a ninety-seven percent decrease since the start of the twentieth century. The drop has been blamed on the ever-rising human population, agriculture and the development of areas where the big cats live. 
             
The study took place in and around the Chitwan National Park in Nepal. The park lies near the Himalayan Mountains. The area is home to about one hundred twenty tigers.
 
Neil Carter is a graduate student at Michigan State University. His goal was to study how the tigers reacted to people who visited the Chitwan National Park and local villagers. He placed camera traps in eighty different places. He says the images they captured showed intense activity inside and outside the park.
 
“Tigers were everywhere, people were everywhere.   And obviously they could not have been in the exact same places at the same time because there will be reports of all kinds of conflicts, left and right.”             
Normally, tigers move around at any time of day or night. But the researcher says the images show that most of the big cats were more active at night. He says they even walked outside the park on the same dirt roads and narrow paths used by people.
 
Neil Carter says he was surprised to find that the tigers changed the timing of their activities, but not place. And he notes a good reason. The animals that tigers hunt for food were in that space.   

“There was no relationship between the number of vehicles or people or even different types of people.  Tigers were there.  They were everywhere.  They were widespread and ubiquitous and also the prey, their prey, was really abundant.  And so that, I think is really sort of the critical link.”
 
Tigers, he says, are not going to leave an area that has their food.
 
Neil Carter says the study results could change wildlife management. He notes that people now live in about eighty percent of tiger habitat. He says the study shows promise that humans and wildlife can occupy the same environment. But he adds that more work is needed to understand the complex connection between the two worlds.
 
Finally, an Amazonian glass frog called Centrolene sabini gained worldwide attention earlier this year. It became the seven thousandth amphibian to be added to the AmphibiaWeb catalog of new amphibian species.
             
The brightly colored green frog was found at Manu National Park in the Peruvian Amazon. It is one of more than three thousand amphibians to be added to the new species list in the past twenty-five years.
             
The AmphibiaWeb project was the idea of scientists at the University of California, in Berkeley, California. They launched the AmphibiaWeb project twelve years ago in an effort to bring attention to shrinking amphibian populations. The scientists found that amphibians are doing well in many parts of the world. They also learned that many amphibians have yet to be discovered.
 
David Wake is professor emeritus of integrative biology at UCB. He started the AmphibiaWeb project. When the project first began, there were only about five thousand recognized amphibian species. That number had increased to more than seven thousand twenty by August of this year.
 
Professor Wake says new amphibian species are being added to the scientific literature nearly every two and a half days. More than one hundred new amphibian species have been added to the database this year alone.
 
There are three categories of amphibians. Frogs and toads represent the largest group, with more than six thousand documented. Newts and salamanders are the next largest group, with more than six hundred known species. These creatures are often confused with lizards because they look a lot alike.
             
Caecilians represent the smallest group of amphibians. These legless, tailless amphibians look a lot like snakes or earthworms. AmphibiaWeb hopes to document every species of amphibian in the world.
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Teuta from: Kosovo
11/28/2012 1:43 PM
Hello I wish you for your work,May I to ask you for wheat have you any material for wheat producion especially for F1 generation..


by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
11/28/2012 8:37 AM
It's a bit surprising for me that a large number of seventy percent of food contain GMOs in America. I understand it would be probable when considering corns and beans made by GMOs also feed livestock and are processed even to drinks. I don't know exactly whether the GMOs are harmful for our health. But I can say it's hard for American people to keep away from GMOs-containning food.

I think 47 persent of supporters for 37' proposition is not a small number. It seems not baned to label food GMOs-free for really organic food. I suppose those really natural food manufacturers get a great business chance to claim their food advantages to consumers.


by: BIJU.P.Y. from: SOUTH INDIA
11/27/2012 4:36 PM
The industrialists have no morality on spending their products. All what they want is to make more and more profits. Morality was thus overtaken by man's greed for wealth and happiness. Strong governments should ensure the saftey of eating all these kinds of foods. People should be convinced first as to what they are eating is safe. Thank you.


by: Scott Smith from: Boulder
11/27/2012 1:29 PM
The industrial chemical, now self-proclaimed Ag Biotech companies, have a pocket full of solutions for every marketing claim. The golden rice claim of saving children from going blind or dieing is their tried-and-true example of corporate benevolence...and a loss leader for further indoctrinating the masses into accepting their mutant foodstuffs.

The reality is that the vast majority of eaters, especially in the USA, are unaware of the existence of GMOs let alone know that they're consuming it in most processed foods. This fact is the result of willful conduct of Ag Biotech bully-boy Monsanto. 4 years before the first commercial release of GMOs into the food supply, Monsanto had worked with the FDA and got them to designate GMOs as being "substantially equivalent to normal food." Mind you, determining "sameness" before the fact and without any clinical human health studies is a gross abuse of scientific process and a literal assault on human health. The key aspect to all GMOs is the combining of DNA from different life form species, something that CANNOT occur in nature. Every patent instance for a genetically modified organism highlights a unique genetic trait related to supporting and enabling the delivery of pesticides, a key commodity that every GMO corporation manufacturers. Mind you, pesticides (poisons) are not a normal or healthy aspect to that which should otherwise nourish. Changing an organism's genetic make-up to delivery poisons may seem like an efficient way of scrubbing all things that hurt farm productivity, but what about its effect on those who consume it? To my way of thinking, if someone is changing a plant that can be sprayed with weed killer and NOT die, and in most cases be modified to contain pesticide where if an insect eats the GMO plant it dies, do you really think people would be eating pesticide-infused GMO foodstuffs if they were fully informed? I seriously doubt it!

Poisons and food production do not mix. Sorry, but I reject this fully. Just because someone else has bought into the industrial propaganda doesn't mean I should bear the consequences. Moreover, I'm tired of these destructive practices being forced onto unsuspecting consumers and into our environment. It's not very loving to tell someone that you're solving the hunger problem and not mention that the food contains poison.

Information is power...and power is choice...which is why the industrial GMO biotech special interests, along with all those who profit from it, were so interested in keeping the lid on their not-so-little secret.

In Response

by: melad from: iraq
11/30/2012 3:43 PM
what's up

In Response

by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
12/02/2012 11:31 AM
Not much, the usual, and You?