Editorial: No on Prop. 37 (food labeling)

September 28, 2012
Orange County Register

Information about the food we eat ought to be readily available and accessible to consumers but Proposition 37 is not the right approach to achieving that outcome. Voters should reject it.

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Prop. 37 would require labeling of foods that have been genetically modified. Backers believe that consumers are entitled to know about what is in their food and as such, government should demand labeling. While we would encourage the utmost disclosure especially as it pertains to food, we recognize that information comes at a cost and is best parsed in the marketplace, not with a coercive mandate. And in the case of this particular mandate, its vagueness opens the door to far too many unintended consequences.

Voters should be concerned that Prop. 37 would likely spawn waves of lawsuits, with the litigation and enforcement costs passed on to grocers and the consumers. The initiative’s language invites abuse, as a retailer “generally must be able to document why the product is exempt from labeling.” Prop. 37, according to the state’s independent Legislative Analyst, allows plaintiffs lawyers “to sue without needing to demonstrate that any specific damage occurred as a result of the alleged violation.”

Tom Scott, Executive Director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, charged that Prop. 37 would “allow anyone to sue small businesses and family farmers without any proof of a violation or damages.” He is concerned it would propagate “shakedown lawsuits.” We share his concern.

Berkeley attorney James Wheaton, Prop. 37′s author, has made a career of filing lawsuits enabled by Prop. 65. Enacted by voters in 1986, Prop. 65 required disclosure of hazardous chemicals. You’ve probably seen signs in public buildings warning that something on the premises is “known to the state of California to cause cancer.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Prop. 65 has spawned “16,000 legal actions – some legitimate, some designed to force business to settle quickly to avoid litigation costs.” Prop. 37 goes a step further. Even the minor checks in Prop. 65, like allowing the state attorney general to review lawsuits for excesses, are eliminated from Prop. 37.

What’s more, trillions of servings of “genetically modified organism” foods have been served up worldwide; and we’ve yet to see significant evidence of harm. The American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, among many others, deny that GMOs are bad for health, to date.

Were Prop. 37 to pass, the effect would be similar to what happens at the gasoline pump, where oil companies produce a California-specific fuel, which artificially drives up the overall price and acts as de facto protectionism. A California-only market for food reduces the food supply and food choices. And moreover,there are no exemptions for small grocers, but plenty for restaurants and alcohol sellers . That’s selective enforcement.

We like a California that makes room for all choices, from Walmart to Whole Foods, and allows consumers to choose what they chew and producers to be free to sell products their customers demand. Disclosure of GMOs isn’t a bad idea, and we would encourage retailers to do so voluntarily, but Prop. 37 is the wrong approach.

Vote No on Prop. 37.

Read the full article here.