• Program 2012-13

What's In a Name? Food Labeling and California Prop 37


October 23, 2012


6-8 pm


New School for Social Research, Food Studies & Environmental Studies


New School for Social Research, 65 West 11th Street NYC, Lang Cafeteria, Ground Floor

In our upcoming panel discussion, we will investigate food labeling from a variety of policy perspectives -- from current debates about mandatory labeling genetically engineered (GE) foods to voluntary certifications, like "Organic."

On November 6, 2012, California 's voters will decide whether to support Proposition 37 which would require labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways" and would prohibit such foods from using the label natural."

Anyone who has paused in the supermarket aisle and pondered the meaning of natural" might want to know what that means (or doesn't mean, in the case of Prop 37). Those in favor of labeling emphasize consumers' right to know what's in their food and how it is produced. For instance, many genetically modified plants have been designed to resist proprietary pesticides. Opponents of Prop 37 argue that mandatory GE labels will unnecessarily raise food costs, hurt small businesses and farmers, create frivolous lawsuits, and saddle California with more bureaucracy and red tape." Further, opponents of GE labeling claim: Respected scientific and medical organizations throughout the world have concluded that biotech foods are safe." Interestingly, labeling opponents believe that consumers who want to buy non-GE food already have an option – buying foods Certified Organic" which cannot be produced with any GE ingredients.

Where do you stand on this matter? For the big picture, we will discuss food labeling in general in the United States. We will explore what food labels currently tell consumers (and what they do not). And, the panel will look at the interplay between mandatory labeling and voluntary certifications, such as Organic, Fair Trade and Animal Welfare Approved.

We hope to provoke discussion about the balance between government's role in providing transparency in the food marketplace and consumers' and producers' responsibility to understand the origin of their food.


Alan H McGowan, Associate Professor, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Eugene Lang College New School for Liberal Arts


Alice Varon, Executive Director of Certified Naturally Grown; Urvashi Rangan, PhD, Director, Consumer Safety and Sustainability Group, Consumers Union/Consumer Reports; Howard Brandstein, NOFA-NY, Policy Committee; Jeff Canavan, Deputy Director of Labeling and Program Delivery, USDA; Invited: Gregory Jaffe, Center for Science in the Public Interest; Megan Eppler, PASA/Food Alliance Certified; Linda Hoodes, National Organic Coalition;