Proposition 37 is being promoted by its sponsors as a simple measure about food labels. But Proposition 37 is anything but simple. As a recent editorial in The Bee noted, Proposition 37 is "an overreach" and "even voters who worry about genetically modified food should reject Proposition 37."
Proposition 37 is a poorly written measure that would increase food costs for families by $400 per year, would add millions in new government bureaucracy and red tape, and would establish a whole new class of shakedown lawsuits against family farmers and food companies like mine without providing any health or safety benefits for consumers.
Proposition 37 amounts to a California-only ban of tens of thousands of perfectly safe, common grocery products containing genetically modified organism (GMO) ingredients, unless they are specially repackaged, relabeled or made with higher-cost ingredients.
A look at the fine print reveals provisions in Proposition 37 that go far beyond labeling.
For starters, Proposition 37 was written by a trial lawyer to benefit trial lawyers. It creates a whole new category of shakedown lawsuits, authorizing lawyers to sue farmers, food producers and grocers over the labels on food.
This hidden provision should come as no surprise. The proposition's author is a well-known trial lawyer who has made millions suing small businesses under rules he helped write into another California proposition more than 20 years ago.
Proposition 37 is also full of politically motivated and nonsensical exemptions for foods than can contain GMO ingredients. For instance, the initiative requires special labels on soy milk, but exempts milk and other dairy products even though cows may be fed GMO grains. Foods sold in grocery stores require labels, but the exact same foods sold in a restaurant or deli are exempt. Pet foods containing meat require labels, but meat for human consumption is exempt. Food imported from foreign countries is exempt if sellers merely include a statement that their products are "GMO free."
Unscrupulous foreign companies would surely game the system.
What's worse, the measure has a confusing provision that would prohibit any food that is pasteurized, heated, dried, juiced or otherwise processed from being labeled or advertised as "natural." This provision applies even if the processed food has no GMO ingredients whatsoever. For example, a bag of raw almonds would be considered "natural" and could be labeled as such. But if they are roasted and canned, they could no longer be called "natural."
As an olive farmer, that means that just because I press my olives into olive oil, I would be prohibited from marketing my product as natural. Keep in mind GMO olives don't exist. It puts me at a disadvantage to my competitors in other states and countries.
All told, Proposition 37 could result in $1.2 billion in higher costs for food processors and farmers, according to a new study by agricultural economics professors at UC Davis.
A separate economic impact study also determined that requiring food producers to relabel, repackage or remake thousands of common grocery products with higher-priced ingredients would increase the cost of food sold by as much as $5.2 billion per year. That translates to $350 to $400 dollars a year for each household.
That is not a small burden for Californians, especially in the midst of a prolonged recession.
Worst of all, Proposition 37 flies in the face of decades of scientific and medical research that has determined that GMO ingredients pose no health risk. In fact, we've been eating these foods for nearly two decades, and tens of thousands of common foods are made with ingredients from biotech or genetically engineered crops. Trillions of servings of these foods have been eaten with not a single confirmed health incident.
The National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and other respected scientific bodies have endorsed GMO foods as safe. The Food and Drug Administration says labeling policies like Proposition 37 would "be inherently misleading."
And the American Medical Association voted in June to adopt this policy position: "There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods."
Doctors, scientists and agriculture experts, along with business and taxpayers groups and farm bureaus representing regions across California, all agree: Proposition 37 is a bad law that will increase costs for consumers and taxpayers and harm family farmers and small businesses.
Let's not impose a cartload of new costs and red tape just to make a few trial lawyers a little richer.
Vote no on Proposition 37.