Why Grocers Oppose Proposition 37

While there is much to bemoan about the California initiative process as a whole, rarely does an issue come forward to a popular vote that would cause such devastating impacts to our industry.  Yet, on the November 2012 ballot, voters will be asked to vote on Proposition 37 – a “simple” labeling initiative of genetically modified foods that is anything but simple.

Proposition 37 would require manufacturers and retailers to label thousands of products as genetically modified if they contain genetically engineered ingredients, but it’s the exemptions that are mind boggling.  For example, cow milk would not require a label (even if the cow is fed with GE corn), but soy milk would.  Fruit juice would require a label, but the same fruit juice mixed with alcohol does not require a label.  And the list is endless.

The initiative also prohibits the use of the word “natural” in all packaging if it has been milled, pressed, or modified in any way.  So, apples could be natural, but if they are pressed to make apple juice, a “natural” label would be prohibited.

And while some may agree with the Proposition 37 premise – that consumers have a right to know to what’s in their food – this initiative puts the sole responsibility of compliance on the retailer.  It is the grocery store that must ensure each product is labeled correctly, and maintain records on every ingredient of every food product sold – a paperwork nightmare.

Proposition 37 also allows for a private right of action, allowing trial lawyers to file suit with no proof of damages, despite the retailers’ best effort at compliance.   One can imagine the immediate uptake in threats of a lawsuit and settlements for all retailers.

Complex labeling requirements only for California, record-keeping, and lawsuits will only result in one thing: higher food prices for retailers and for consumers.  And will be catastrophic for our industry. Proposition 37 is bad public policy – Vote No.