Prop 37 may require labels on genetically modified foods

Christina Bennett

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Californians are often stereotyped as health-nuts, but not all are going nuts for Proposition 37.

When voters hit the polls in November, a ‘yes’ vote on Proposition 37 would usher in a new wave of food labeling regulation by mandating that genetically engineered foods or foods produced with genetically engineered ingredients carry a labeling identifying them as such.

However, many have come out in opposition to the initiative including many major newspapers, farmers and grocers associations.

Formally titled “The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” Proposition 37 amends the Health and Safety Code and asserts that genetically engineered foods “often (have) unintended consequences…such genetic engineering can increase the levels of known toxicants in foods and introduce new toxicants and health concerns.”

On the opposite end, the No on 37 campaign claims in their fact sheet that the law is a hidden food tax, which will raise food prices for consumers by as much as $400 a year, according to analysis prepared by Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants.

The No on 37 campaign asserts in one fact sheet on their site that Proposition 37 will hurt California family farmers and food companies. One goal of the initiative is to, “…‘Ban’ foods that have any GE ingredients. They [funders of the initiative] see labeling and aggressive litigation as a means of accomplishing this goal,” according to information found on the page.

Those who oppose Proposition 37 frequently point out the health and medical opinion that genetically engineered foods pose no real health risk for consumers.

Opponents also cite a June statement by the American Medical Association, which said, “There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods.”

The arguments go back and forth with each side pointing fingers at each other, making it difficult for voters to distinguish between truth and opinion in the two campaigns.

The Yes on 37 campaign reiterates that the law would not increase food costs based on independent economic analysis prepared by Joanna M. Shepherd-Bailey from Emory University School of Law.

The report maintains there would be “little or no change in food costs” and cites the costs as a “trivial expense” for manufacturers to re-label packages or the anticipated litigation costs.

They also question the credibility of the No on 37’s economic analysis group Northbridge by noting that the report was discredited.

Supporters of the initiative also say that genetically modified foods are linked to environmental problems including increased pesticide use and “super weeds” resistant to herbicides subsequently requiring increased chemical intervention.

In an Oct. 18 press release, the Yes on 37 campaign manager Gary Ruskin accused the No on 37 campaign of violating the law regarding the use of the official seal of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in a mailer.

“The Justice Department should investigate this fraudulent dirty trick perpetrated by the No on 37 campaign,” Ruskin said. “They are running a campaign of lies, deceit and trickery, and some of it may be criminal.”

The Legislative Analyst’s Office is a nonpartisan fiscal and policy advisor to the California Legislature overseen by a 16-member committee, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC).

Anton Favorini, a staff member in the Legislative Analyst’s Office assigned to Water, Coastal Development, Fish and Wildlife and Agriculture said the analysis considers the cost of implementation in the state.

Favorini commented that the Legislative Analyst’s Office does not take into account partisan positions on the proposition, but strictly adheres to non-biased analysis of the proposed law.

“When we estimate these [cost analyses of proposed laws], we just estimate what it would cost to implement the measure. So those costs [for Proposition 37] are what we estimate the Department of Public Health would end up incurring,” Favorini said.

Favorini offered two takeaways from Proposition 37 analysis he helped draft.

“One important point to note is in terms of [the safety] of genetically engineered foods, they are regulated in the same way that other foods are regulated. They meet the same standards as non-genetically engineered foods,” Favorini said. “But on the other hand in our view, the costs, at least of the state and other local governments, are not particularly large.”