Proposition 37, pushed by organic food companies and Joseph Mercola, an osteopath and owner of an alternative health website, is the second attempt nationwide to ask voters to require labeling of genetically engineered foods.
Genetic engineering, also known as genetic modifying, happens when scientists change the DNA of a plant or animal to achieve new characteristics. Common genetically engineered crops in the United States include corn mixed with pesticide so it is resistant to bugs, and soybeans bred to tolerate weed-killers such as Round-Up. Cross breeding techniques, such as mixing a plum and an apricot to make a pluot, do not meet the definition of genetic engineering under Proposition 37.
As biotech innovations have expanded in recent years, the percentage of crops made from genetic engineering has increased dramatically. Today, about 90 percent of corn and soybeans are genetically engineered, according to the USDA. That's a concern to proponents of organic farming, but a boon to producers who can grow greater quantities at lower cost.
Advocates concerned about potential health and environmental impacts of genetic engineering have been trying for years to get states and the federal government to label such foods. They have unsuccessfully pushed for food labeling laws in 19 state legislatures and submitted a petition to the federal Food and Drug Administration earlier this year. Ten years ago Oregon voters rejected a ballot measure that would have required labeling genetically engineered food.
WHAT IT WOULD DO
Require that food containing genetically engineered ingredients be labeled "Partially produced with genetic engineering" or "May be partially produced with genetic engineering."
Exempt most meat, dairy and alcohol, as well as food that is organic or sold in restaurants.
Prohibit labeling or advertising genetically engineered food as "natural," "naturally made," "naturally grown" or "all natural." May also prohibit those terms on other processed foods.
Allow people to sue food manufacturers who violate labeling rules.
Mercola.com, alternative health web site owned by osteopath Joseph Mercola
James Wheaton, attorney, First Amendment Project and Environmental Law Foundation, proponent of Proposition 65 in 1986
Several companies that make organic foods, including Clif Bar, Nature's Path, Amy's Kitchen and Lundberg Family Farms
WHAT THEY SAY
People have the right to know what's in their food.
More than 40 countries, including much of Europe, require labeling genetically engineered foods.
The long-term health effects of eating genetically engineered foods are unknown.
Many companies that make pesticides and genetically engineered seeds, including Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer
Major soda and snack food companies, including Pepsi, Coke, Nestle, General Mills and Conagra
Several agriculture and grocery industry associations
WHAT THEY SAY
The initiative opens up the possibility for new frivolous lawsuits.
The price of food would rise under the measure because many companies that now use low-cost genetically-engineered ingredients would use higher-priced ingredients to avoid the new labels.
Mainstream health organizations say it's safe to eat genetically engineered food.
As of Friday:
Supporters have raised $4.6 million, mostly from alternative health website Mercola.com, organic food companies, and natural products such as Dr. Bronners soap.
Opponents have raised $34.5 million, mostly from companies that make pesticides, genetically engineered seeds, or snack foods and beverages that contain genetically engineered ingredients (such as corn syrup).
WHAT IT WOULD COST
According to the Legislative Analyst's Office, the state Department of Public Health would pay a few hundred thousand dollars to $1 million annually to regulate food labeling. Processing new lawsuits could increase costs to the state and counties.
ON THE WEB
No on Proposition 37: www.NoProp37.com
Yes on Proposition 37: www.CARightToKnow.org