Let’s see every major California newspaper has said “Vote NO” on California Proposition 37 and have editorialized against the food labeling scheme.
These are all valid arguments for rejecting Proposition 37, but a more important reason is that there is no rationale for singling out genetic engineering, of all the agricultural practices listed above, as the only one for which labeling should be required. So far, there is little if any evidence that changing a plant’s or animal’s genes through bioengineering, rather than through selective breeding, is dangerous to the people who consume it. In fact, some foods have been engineered specifically to remove allergens from the original version. By contrast, there is obvious reason to be worried about the fact that three-fourths of the antibiotics in this country are used to fatten and prevent disease in livestock, not to treat disease in people. The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from overuse of pharmaceuticals poses a real threat to public health. So why label only the bioengineered foods? Because the group that wrote Proposition 37 happened to target them. What’s needed is a consistent, rational food policy, not a piecemeal approach based on individual groups’ pet concerns.
Should genetically modified food be labeled and face more thorough regulation? That is a completely valid question, one that should be the focus of congressional hearings and possible federal legislation.
It is not, however, an issue that should be addressed via a weakly crafted state ballot proposition whose leading donor appears to stand to gain from its passage. We refer, of course, to Proposition 37. Its biggest backer is businessman Joseph Mercola, who runs the “world’s No. 1 natural health website.” Mercola doesn’t just sell a wide range of organic products. He is also a critic of child vaccinations, mammograms and other fundamental tools of medical science.
But Mercola’s key role in advocating the measure is not the prime reason to oppose it. Instead, we agree with the persuasive argument made by Tyler Cowen, the George Mason University economist and New York Times columnist: Proposition 37 “is full of bad ideas and questionable distinctions” and places such a burden on small farmers and retailers that it could kill them off. Cowen also believes, as we do, that the measure has some hard-to-fathom loopholes and could spawn a wave of costly lawsuits.
Proposition 37 may have some value in bringing attention to genetically modified foods and the somewhat laissez faire way with which the U.S. government has monitored their arrival in grocery stores. But it is not good legislation, and we urge its rejection.
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.
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.
OK, that is enough and you get the picture.
Here is the video:
Have a good laugh and then remember to vote NO on California Proposition 37.