WHILE outsiders will try, it’s hard to generalize about Californians. The most populous state in the nation is as diverse and divergent as a Bakersfield oil field roustabout and a Big Sur masseuse.
But it’s safe to say Californians as a rule are concerned – more concerned than others, even – about what goes into our food. Our Central Valley is the nation’s green grocer. Our restaurants are at the leading edge of world cuisine. Our commitment to sustainable agriculture and eating mostly locavore – a word coined in California – is second to none.
Our fields and our vineyards are going beyond sustainable to being certified organic at record rates. While figures are harder to come by on the household level, it’s a safe bet most of our backyard vegetable beds are, too.
Our passion for safe and additive-free foods makes California a natural place for activists to place on the ballot a measure such as November’s Proposition 37, the Genetically Engineered Foods Labeling Initiative. It would require labeling some foods in grocery stores if they are made from plants or animals that have had their genetic materials changed, and would prohibit such foods from being labeled “natural.” No other state has such a measure, though some other countries do.
The proposal probably sounds good to many Californians. In the future, something like it may indeed make sense. But, as with the absurd bureaucratic red tape created by the anti-toxic chemical initiative Proposition 65, and by the petty litigation-encouraging aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Prop. 37 as written would be a field day for lawyers more than a protector of the average Californian’s health.
Are genetically engineered foods as safe as “natural” ones? Fact is, the question itself is a red herring. Cross-breeding and hybridization of crops has been practiced for thousands of years – “genetic engineering” is only the contemporary term for it. Biotech labs in California and elsewhere have created miraculous foods that hold great promise for feeding the world through drought-tolerant and disease-resistant crops. And, yes, we all eat genetically engineered foods all the time – from everyday corn and soybeans to many of the world’s papayas, which scientists saved from virtual extinction after a disease threatened the Hawaiian crop.
Of most dramatic concern to Californians wondering about Prop. 37 is its “Enforcement” section, which reads in part: “any person may bring an action in superior court pursuant to this section and the court shall have jurisdiction upon hearing and for cause shown … the person shall not be required to allege facts necessary to show, or tending to show … unique or special individual injury or damages.”
Any person? What a nightmare scenario for grocers small and large who, under the terms of the initiative, would have to keep reams of paperwork certifying that all the food they sell is properly labeled as to which are genetically modified or not.
Of concern as well is that the same Bay Area lawyer, James Wheaton, who wrote much of the lawsuit-happy Prop. 65, drafted the similar Prop. 37.
We’re for safe foods, and full disclosure, to California consumers. Prop. 37 is not the answer and deserves a no vote.