Pro & Con: Prop. 37 is a costly, deceptive scheme

September 28, 2012 

The issue: Proposition 37 is an initiative to require food manufacturers and retailers to label fresh produce and processed foods that contain genetically modified ingredients.

Click here to read a viewpoint in favor of Proposition 37 »

At first blush, Proposition 37 appears to be a simple ballot measure about labeling the foods we buy and eat. But this flawed measure is far from simple: It will lead to cartloads of hidden costs and to a tangle of new bureaucracy, and it includes special-interest exemptions and has the potential for floods of shakedown lawsuits.

That is why the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau urges you to vote against Proposition 37, a deceptive food-labeling scheme that will heap new costs on farmers and add up to $400 a year to consumers’ grocery bills. All with no proven health or safety benefits.

This measure threatens California farmers and food producers. It mandates new paperwork requirements for California’s entire agriculture industry, whether genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are involved or not. It exposes farmers to shakedown lawsuits, even if we’re following the requirements of Proposition 37. This financial burden targets a critical component of San Luis Obispo’s economy, as we’re also still in the throes of an economic downturn.

Proposition 37 would force the use of higher cost ingredients from producers who choose to use non-GMO products to avoid a misleading stigma or fear that comes with labels.

Bottom line: Proposition 37 would result in $1.2 billion in higher costs for food processors and farmers, according to a new study by UC Davis agriculture economics professors.

A separate new economic impact study also determined that requiring food producers to relabel, repackage or remake thousands of common grocery products with higher priced ingredients would increase the cost of food sold by as much as $5.2 billion per year.

That translates to $350 to $400 dollars a year for each household.

Proposition 37 is full of politically-motivated exemptions for foods that can contain GMOs.

For instance, Proposition 37 requires special labels on soy milk, but exempts dairy products, even though cows are fed genetically modified grains.

Alcohol is exempt, even though bourbon is made from genetically modified corn and some beers are made from genetically modified wheat.

Under Proposition 37, 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 “GMO-free.” Unscrupulous foreign companies would surely game the system.

Meanwhile, there is no doubt that Proposition 37 will lead to more shakedown lawsuits because of provisions buried in the fine print that allow trial lawyers to sue family farmers, grocers and small businesses — even without any evidence of aviolation.

In fact, the author of this ballot measure is atrial lawyer who has made millions suing small businesses under the provisions of another ballot measure he helped author more than 20 years ago.

The truth is, tens of thousands of common foods are made with ingredients from biotech or genetically engineered crops. We’ve all been eating these foods for more than 20 years, with no issues.

That should come as no surprise.

The National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and other venerable scientific bodies have endorsed GMOs as safe. The Food and Drug Administration says labeling policies like Proposition 37 would “be inherently misleading.”

The American Medical Association voted three months ago, in June 2012, to adopt this policy position: “There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods.”

I urge you to trust the word of doctors, scientists and agriculture experts, along with business and taxpayers groups, and the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau, over that of trial lawyers and special interests who stand to gain the most from this proposition. And I urge you to protect the interests of this region’s farmers, families and food producers as well as your own pocketbook. Vote “no” on Proposition 37.

Jackie Crabb has served as executive director of the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau for more than a decade.

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