Prop. 37: GE Labels Mean Higher Costs

Proposition 37’s backers claim it is a simple measure about slapping labels on certain foods. It’s not.

This food-labeling scheme – written by trial lawyers who hope for a windfall if it becomes law – has many flaws: It creates a new bureaucracy, has huge loopholes and hidden costs and will result in higher grocery bills.

Prop. 37 would impose a California-only ban of tens of thousands of perfectly safe foods containing genetically engineered ingredients unless they are specially repackaged, relabeled or made with higher-cost ingredients. Genetically engineered foods have been determined to be safe in more than 400 studies. Americans have consumed more than 3 trillion servings of food with genetically engineered ingredients – with not a single documented ill effect.

UCLA molecular biologist Bob Goldberg, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, told The Chronicle earlier this month: “There is not one credible scientist working on this that would call it unsafe.” He is absolutely right.

In fact, the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences and other respected medical and health organizations all conclude that genetically engineered foods are safe.

Prop. 37 is full of politically motivated exemptions that make no sense. For instance, it requires special labels on soy milk, but exempts dairy products, even though cows are fed genetically engineered grain. Alcohol is exempt, even though it can be made from or contain genetically engineered ingredients. Pet foods containing meat require labels, but meat for human consumption is exempt.

Food imported from foreign countries is exempt if sellers merely include a statement that their products are “GE free.” Unscrupulous foreign companies surely would game the system.

According to the nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst, Prop. 37 would allow trial lawyers “to sue without needing to demonstrate that any specific damage occurred as a result of the alleged violation.”

That means law-abiding grocers, farmers, manufacturers and distributors could be sued for products that are labeled properly. They would then need to choose between spending tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers and tests to demonstrate the product is “GE free” or settling out of court.

The last thing California’s struggling economy needs is an avalanche of shakedown lawsuits hitting businesses. And the last thing consumers and taxpayers need is higher costs.

Prop. 37 should be rejected this November.

Dr. Henry I. Miller is a fellow at Stanford University‘s Hoover Institution. He was the founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the Food and Drug Administration.

Reprinted from The San Francisco Chronicle (August 24, 2012)