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Michael Pollan: California’s Prop 37 Fight to Label GMOs Could Galvanize Growing U.S. Food Movement

"This is the first time for the food movement to pass from that moment of voting with your fork to voting with your votes for a different kind of food system," said Pollan.

The price of basic foodstuffs hit a record high in 2011, with the cost of cereals surging by more than a third over the last 12 months, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation said on Thursday.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, as we continue our discussion now about California’s Proposition 37, which would require the Department of Public Health here in California to label genetically engineered food. If Californians vote yes on Prop 37 on November 6, California will become the first in the country to require such a labeling system, possibly creating ripple effects across the nation.

We are going right now to Michael Pollan. Michael Pollan is a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Journalism, in the studios at University of California School of Journalism.

We thank you very much for joining us, Michael. Michael has written a number of best-selling books, leading writer and thinker on food and food policy. He is the Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley School of Journalism. Among his books,  The Botany of DesireThe Omnivore’s Dilemma,In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. His next book will be called  Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, which is due out next year.

Michael Pollan, welcome to  Democracy Now!

MICHAEL POLLAN: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: As you hear this debate that we just had on—on Prop 37—your thoughts?

MICHAEL POLLAN: Look, I think this is a—it’s easy to get lost in the weeds about this thing, because there’s been a lot of charges and countercharges flying around. But I actually think there’s a lot of stake here, and not just for Californians.

You know, genetic modification was a major innovation in our food supply that we have not had a chance to debate in this country. And it goes back now 'til 1996, when these first crops were introduced. And unlike in Europe, where there was a pretty heated debate, and in Japan, in a resolution that involved labeling—they're sold in these places, most of them, but they’re labeled—we never had that debate, because both political parties agreed, and when in America both political parties agree, there’s no space for politics. And so, I just think it’s that opportunity for us to start talking about it.

And if this label passes in California, there will be enormous pressure for a national label by the food industry, among others. If it survives court challenges—because, make no mistake, if it passes, Monsanto will take it to court on the very first day—there will be pressure, because food companies will not want to make—formulate food differently for California than the rest of the country. So we’ll have that national debate over whether to label this product or not. And I think that’s a healthy thing. How can that not be healthy?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk about who are the forces that are behind this, and put it in a context. You’ve been writing about food now for decades. Put it in the context of what you talk about as the food movement in this country.

MICHAEL POLLAN: Well, something very exciting is happening around food in this country. There is a movement. It has—you see it when you go to the farmers’ market. You see it in the kind of conversation we’re having about food in the media. People are getting very interested in where their food comes from, how it was produced, and they’re trying very hard to, you know, vote with their fork, as the slogan goes, for the kind of food that supports their values, the kind of food that they deem most healthy or environmentally sustainable.

And this movement is a tremendous threat to big food, which would much rather we didn’t think about how our food is produced, because it’s often not a very pretty picture. I mean, take the meat industry, for example. They don’t want you to think CAFO, feedlot, factory farm, when you pick up a piece of beef; they want you to think home on the range, cowboys, you know, a 10-gallon hat. So, there’s a real disconnect between the way food is being sold to us and the way it’s actually being produced.

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