Here are some details on Proposition 37, the November 2012 California ballot initiative that would require labeling the genetically modified organism (GMO) content of food sold in the state.
PROPOSITION 37 –
According to the official election guide, prop.37 would
- Require labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if the food is made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.
- Prohibit labeling or advertising such food as “natural.”
- Exempt from this requirement foods that are “certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages.
- GMO food may be dangerous or unhealthful, so requiring food to be so labeled makes sense. Too much of the research done to date was controlled by the food industry.
- Over 40 other countries already require GMO labeling, so this is not some nutty, way-out environmentalist scheme.
- Since 40+ nations require it already, the science and procedures to do so must already exist. The commercials saying GMO labeling would add $400 to a typical family’s annual grocery bills seem really exaggerated.
- The law’s multiple exemptions (see above) will ensure that the labeling requirement is not too stringent. Food companies change labels all the time.
- California would be the first state to require GMO labeling, which might spur others to do so.
- No one has yet shown that GMO food is harmful to anyone. Labeling could cause the public to sour on GMO ingredients for no real reason other than fear.
- It will cost food companies money, which they will pass on to consumers, and we’re already in a time of fast-rising agricultural prices.
- If this, what’s next? This kind of science-based decision is for legislators aided by hard science, not voters acting on fear.
- The normally liberal LA Times and Sacramento Bee are against 37, saying the wording is too sloppy. The Times says that 37:
- contains language that…could be construed by the courts to imply that processed foods could not be labeled as “natural” even if they weren’t genetically engineered.
- Most of the burden for ensuring that foods are properly labeled would fall not on producers but on retailers, which would have to get written statements from their suppliers verifying that there were no bioengineered ingredients — a paperwork mandate that could make it hard for mom-and-pop groceries to stay in business.
- Enforcement would largely occur through lawsuits brought by members of the public who suspect grocers of selling unlabeled food, a messy and potentially expensive way to bring about compliance.
- Note: The opponents say pro.37 would lead to “shakedown lawsuits.” I hate empty buzzwords, but the law would be enforced primarily by the courts, since no new bureaucracy would be set up by 37. The use of stupid arguments in politics doesn’t mean the policy being attacked is a good one, BTW.
Links to Pro/Con Opinions
- The Yes on 37 website.
- LA Times opposes 37 and makes some good points.
- Fresno Bee makes some more points in opposition.
Just Saying: Are you noticing a pattern with this year’s propositions (and every year’s)? Someone takes a good or possibly good idea, writes their own ballot language, with a bunch of flaws, overgeneralized language, and exemptions, and asks the people to pass it into law because they support the idea generally. This is what happens when we bypass the legislature over and over.
NEXT POST: Prop. 33 on auto insurance rates; a.k.a., the return of government-by-Mercury-Insurance.