A Science-based Voter's Guide

by Noam Ross, 19 October 2012

The Davis Chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology sent along this great voter guide for upcoming California propositions:

SCB voter’s guide

Nov 2012 ballot measures relevant to conservation

Prop 37

Mandates labeling of genetically modified food. Prohibits such food from being labelled as “natural”. However, this law would exempt foods that are certified organic, foods unintentionally produced with genetically modified material, meat of animals fed genetically modified food but that are not genetically modified themselves, alcoholic beverages, and food sold in restaurants.

Pro - Sierra Club California supports prop 37. Some people are concerned about the health and environmental impacts of GMO production and consumption. Under current regulations, it is very difficult for consumers to know whether food they buy at the supermarket is genetically modified or not.
Of particular concern for conservation are GMO’s modified to resist herbicides or pesticides. Herbicide-resistant GMO crops allows growers to apply different and/or more herbicides to kill weeds without damaging their crops (Cerdeira and Duke 2006). The use of different types of herbicides has led to the emergence of weeds resistant to the new herbicides (Cerdeira and Duke 2006), which could have uncertain environmental impacts. Additionally, genetically modified plants and animals may interbreed with their wild counterparts, potentially interfering with their ecology (Wolfenbarger and Phifer 2000, Hedrick 2001, Cerdeira and Duke 2006).

Con - Some opponents of proposition 37 argue that there is no scientific evidence for any health dangers associated with consuming GMO foods. This is supported by a review of the effects of GMOs by Cerdeira and Duke (2006). Another argument against prop 37 is that it makes no distinction between different types of genetic engineering (eg. producing a strain of rice containing more vitamin A versus engineering herbicide resistance). Labeling all transgenic food as “GMO” may stigmatize genetically modified products and cause farmers using these products to suffer financially or switch to using more pesticides rather than pesticide-resistant crops (Frewer et al, 2002). Some studies have shown that switching to certain herbicide resistant GMO crops could lessen negative environmental impacts by allowing for use of different types of herbicides that have less negative environmental impacts (Devos et al. 2008). Other studies have found that certain herbicide resistant crops allow for low- or no-till agricultural practices, which have environmental benefits (Cerdeira and Duke 2006).

Citations Cerdeira, A. and S. Duke. 2006. The current status and environmental impacts of Glyphosate-resistant crops: a review. Journal of Environmental Quality 35:1633-1658.

Devos, Y., M. Cougnon, S. Vergucht, R. Bulcke, G. Haesaert, W. Steurbaut and D. Reheul. 2008. Environmental impact of herbicide regimes used with genetically modified herbicide-resistant maize. Transgenic Res 17: 1059-1077.

Frewer, L. J., Miles, S., & Marsh, R. (2002). The media and genetically modified foods: evidence in support of social amplification of risk. Risk Analysis, 22(4), 701-711.

Hedrick, P. W. 2001. Invasion of transgenes from salmon or other genetically modified organisms into natural populations. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 58(5), 841-844.

Wolfenbarger, L. and P. Phifer. 2000. The ecological risks and benefits of genetically engineered plants. Science 290: 2088-2093.

Prop 39

Changes tax law for multistate businesses, requiring them to pay income taxes based on the percentage of their sales made in California. This would result in roughly $1 billion of increased revenue annually for California. The revenue would fund alternative energy projects and education.

Pro - Many environmental groups in California have endorsed prop 39, including Sierra Club California, California League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Planning and Conservation League. At least half of funds generated by the proposition must go toward energy efficiency or alternative energy projects. This would benefit conservation by helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thereby minimizing climate change (Quadrelli and Peterson, 2007). Additionally, this proposition aims to create jobs in clean energy. A portion of the remaining funds generated by the proposition will go to funding K-12 and community college education. Increased education funding benefits conservation because higher education levels are positively correlated with concern for environmental issues. Furthermore, education is positively correlated with socio-economic status, allowing people more economic freedom to give to the environment (SGuin et al 1998).

Con - Opponents of prop 39 argue that increasing taxes on multistate corporations might cause a loss in jobs. If people lose their jobs they may be less sympathetic to conservation issues as they struggle to get by.

For more information, see this summary of prop 39 put together by the CA state government: http://vig.cdn.sos.ca.gov/2012/general/pdf/39-title-summ-analysis.pdf

SGuin, C., Pelletier, L. G., & Hunsley, J. (1998). Toward a model of environmental activism. Environment and Behavior, 30(5), 628-652.

Quadrelli, R., & Peterson, S. (2007). The energy–climate challenge: Recent trends in CO2 emissions from fuel combustion. Energy Policy, 35(11), 5938-5952.