CALIFORNIANS HAVE gotten used to being presented with all sorts of ridiculous ballot measures, but in November they’ll be confronted with what very well could be the worst proposition ever.
The measure, Prop 37, officially known as the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, purports to be about consumer protection but is actually intended to open the door to a plethora of frivolous lawsuits which will enrich a handful of unscrupulous lawyers while doing nothing to protect the public.
At issue are “genetically modified organisms,” which have become commonplace in many parts of the world and produced all sorts of benefits for farming and food production, while causing no harm to anybody, but which make some consumers nervous. Prop 37 requires that products containing GMOs be labelled as such, which is fine with us, because the free market only works if consumers are fully informed about what they’re buying.
The problem with Prop 37 isn’t that it requires manufacturers of products with GMO ingredients to disclose what they’re selling. It’s that it authorizes any citizen to file a lawsuit and be awarded damages from someone who committed even a minuscule violation of the proposition’s labeling requirements without having to show they were damaged by the violation. It’s a concept that staggers the mind.
The very essence of civil courts is that they’re supposed to be where people can be made whole after being injured by somebody else — for example, a car crashes into someone’s living room, a dog is off leash and bites a passerby, or someone is fired because his boss doesn’t like the color of his skin. These illegal acts are proper subjects for lawsuits seeking damages — but only to the extent that the illegal acts damaged the people who were victimized by them.
In other words, the person whose living room was damaged can be awarded monetary damages to put the living room back the way it was, the person who was bitten by the dog can sue to recover his medical bills, and the person who was illegally fired can be awarded lost wages. But the idea that a person can sue and be awarded a big sum of money when he was never damaged in the first place is, to say the least, bizarre.
Nevertheless, there it is, right in the plain language of Prop 37: “Any person can bring an action pursuant to this section and that person shall not be required to show irreparable damage or loss, or unique or special injury or damages.”
And how much could the damages be? “At least the amount of the actual or offered retail price of each package or product alleged to be in violation.” In other words, tens of millions of dollars. You can almost see the dishonest lawyers circling overhead.
As usual, there are so many propositions coming up on this November’s ballot, it will be difficult to keep them straight. Accordingly, we have penned a mnemonic device to help you remember not to vote for Prop 37.
Don’t forget: In heaven there are no votes for 37.