According to UC Berkeley professor Ignacio Chapela, the passage of Proposition 37 will not only restore the right to choose what foods we put in our bodies, but it may restore scientific process to its rightful place—something the bioengineering industry, with full assistance from the White House, removed.
"The promises made by genetic engineering have not been fulfilled," explains Chapela, a microbial biologist who was first to exposed the fact that genetically engineered corn was contaminating ancient strains of Mexican maize via cross-pollinating. "Genetic engineering has proven to be wishful thinking, a dream that has failed."
Chapela considers himself fortunate to be able to speak out freely about GMO failings, since so many other scientists have been attacked or threatened or have lost employment for approaching genetic engineering with a critical eye. "I would like to speak for those scientists," says Chapela, "because they cannot." When the first Bush administration instructed federal regulatory bodies to step aside and give the GE industry free reign, Chapela explains, there was no scientific scrutiny allowed.
"It has been very hard to survive as a scientist who is a critical thinker now," Chapela says. "The central dogma embedded in K-12 science textbooks indoctrinates young people to accept that genetic engineering is an inevitable part of life. It says all living things are driven by genes encoded in DNA, and that by manipulating that DNA we can create life, and mix, match and alter it the way we want it." But this isn't the way it actually plays out, says Chapela. "The reality is that genetic engineering is not working, any way you look at it."
What Proposition 37 offers consumers is the promise that all GMO foods will be labeled in California. What it offers scientists is a chance to scrutinize an industry that has intimidated them—sometimes to the point of ruining their careers—for questioning the validity of genetic engineering. "The Bush administration decided in the 1980s that genetic engineering was the next wave of economic development for the U.S. and for the world," says Chapela. "We were instructed to look the other way."
Labeling GE foods may help science, which at present cannot investigate whether GE food consumption is related to rises in disease. "We have been sitting here in the dark, forbidden from looking," says Chapela, who believes a GMO-labeling law will give us "the simple capacity to know and to do the science for the first time. I think we deserve it."