Farm Progress

With the news that the deceptive and costly California food labeling measure has qualified for the November ballot, a broad coalition opposed to the measure reiterated its efforts to educate voters about the serious loopholes, lawsuits, flaws and consumer and taxpayer costs associated with this poorly written measure.

June 13, 2012

5 Min Read

With the news that the deceptive and costly food labeling measure has qualified for the November ballot, a broad coalition opposed to the measure reiterated its efforts to educate voters about the serious loopholes, lawsuits, flaws and consumer and taxpayer costs associated with this poorly written measure.

The measure would ban the sale of tens of thousands of common and perfectly safe grocery products that contain genetically engineered (GE) ingredients, unless they are specially repackaged, relabeled or completely reformulated just for our state. More than 300 studies have been done on GE foods which have been deemed safe by respected food scientists and regulators worldwide.

(For more, see: Campaign to label biotech foods a waste of time and money)

“This measure is deceptive and poorly written. When voters learn about the arbitrary exemptions, the self-serving provisions authorizing new frivolous lawsuits against family farmers, food providers and grocery stores, and when they learn it’s going to increase grocery costs and taxpayer costs, we’re confident they’ll reject it,” said Jamie Johansson, an Oroville farmer who grows olives to make olive oil. Mr. Johansson is also second vice president of the California Farm Bureau Federation. “Family farmers are part of the growing coalition that has come together to defeat this deceptive and costly initiative.”

Arbitrary Loopholes Exempting Foods that Can Contain GE Ingredients

The ballot proposition inexplicably gives special exemptions for about two-thirds of the foods people eat every day, even foods which can contain GE ingredients.

Beef, chicken, pork, eggs, and dairy like milk and cheese are exempt from the labeling requirements even though most animals are fed GE grains. Alcohol is exempt even though it may contain GE ingredients. Foods sold in restaurants are exempt even though the exact same foods sold in a grocery store would require labeling. The exemptions are spelled out in the official Title & Summary prepared by the state attorney general, found here.

“This measure is riddled with loopholes and special exemptions that make no sense,” said Bill Dombrowski, president & CEO, California Retailers Association, “We don’t think requiring labels on foods made using modern biotechnology are necessary. But creating a hodgepodge and nonsensical labeling regime is only going to confuse and mislead consumers.”

A Boondoggle for Certain Trial Lawyers

This measure would create a whole new category of lawsuits allowing any private citizen to sue claiming a family farmer, grocer or food company has violated its labeling provisions. According to the non-partisan California Legislative Analyst (LAO), “In order to bring such action forward, the consumer would not be required to demonstrate any specific damage from the alleged violation.” Link to the LAO Review can be found here.

In fact, the measure was drafted by a trial lawyer who has experience writing ballot measures and then using its provisions to sue small businesses. A previous measure he helped write, Proposition 65, has generated nearly $500 million in legal fees and settlements over the past two decades. His law firm and the associations affiliated with his law firm have received more than $3 million in Prop. 65 legal settlements and fees in the last 10 years alone.

“This deceptive ballot measure will allow anyone to sue small businesses and family farmers without any proof of a violation or damages,” said Tom Scott, executive director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. “At a time when California’s economy is struggling to create jobs, the last thing we need is more shakedown lawsuits that hurt small businesses.”

Hidden agenda

Companies selling products exempt from labeling requirements have provided the lion’s share of the funding for the measure. Of those, the largest funder to date is a no-longer-practicing doctor, Joseph Mercola from Illinois, who has contributed $800,000 and who owns the website, selling “natural” and some organic foods. Many foods and products sold through his website would be exempt from labeling requirements in this measure.

Mercola also blogs and YouTubes frequently, dispensing controversial and unconventional medical advice which has drawn three warning letters from the FDA. Mercola has stated, for instance, “There is no solid evidence that mammograms save lives”, he is opposed to chemotherapy, he believes baking soda can help cure cancer, and is opposed to childhood immunizations and fluoride in water.

Mercola and other organic food corporations funding the measure have written on blogs and been quoted in news articles saying GE labeling is equivalent to putting a “skull and crossbones” on food products, an acknowledgement that scary-sounding labels will help them gain market share. “

(For more, see: Campaign to label biotech foods a waste of time and money)

Measure Unnecessary

There have been more than 300 independent medical studies on the health and safety of foods made using genetically engineered ingredients. The World Health Organization, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association and many others have all come to the conclusion that foods made using GE ingredients are safe, and are not materially different than other foods. As a result, the FDA does not require labels on foods with genetically engineered ingredients because these labels will only serve to confuse and mislead consumers into thinking these food products are unsafe, which isn’t true.

Organizations Opposed

Organizations opposed to the measure include the California Farm Bureau Federation, California Independent Grocers Association, California Chamber of Commerce, California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, California Taxpayer Protection Committee, California Women for Agriculture, Council for Biotechnology Information, California Retailers Association, Grocery Manufacturers Association, Southern California Black Chamber of Commerce, Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce, California League of Food Processors and many others. The coalition continues to grow each day. A full list can be found here.

Paid for by the Coalition Against the Costly Food Labeling Proposition, sponsored by farmers and food producers, major funding by Council for Biotechnology Information and Grocery Manufacturers Association.

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