Food

Why California Prop 37 is a Good Initiative

Written by Nick Andre

Today I received a mailer from the No on Prop 37 campaign that upset me because it was so misleading and deceptive. Someone who knows little about this issue would most likely find it compelling, but here is why it is just flat out wrong. Below I will list every claim the mailer makes and rebuttals to those points.

Claim: Prop 37 would give consumers incomplete and misleading information: with a statement by Henry I. Miller, M.D., Stanford University stating that “Prop 37 would impose confusing red tape requirements for labeling food products sold in California that do not exist in any other state or country in the world.”

Why this is false: While labeling of genetically modified foods does not exist in any other state in the US, over 60 countries require labeling including all of Europe, China, India, Brazil, etc… Adding the word genetically modified before an ingredient is not a confusing red tape requirement as food manufacturers regularly change labels. Additionally, Henry I. Miller is part of an ultra conservative think tank and he penned this article about why radiation is good for you. He is also not part of Stanford University as the mailer and many commercials claim. In fact the No on 37 group was forced to pull their TV adds featuring Miller due to complaints by Stanford University. He is actually a member of the Hoover Institute which happens to be on Stanford’s campus but has no affiliation with the University. Read more about that from the LA Times here. Furthermore, Miller is also a former spokesman for a now defunct group that tried to discredit the link between cigarettes and cancer and he also denies Climate Change exists.

Claim: Prop 37’s arbitrary and complicated labeling requirements don’t make sense: with a statement by American Council on Science and Health stating that “two-thirds of the food consumed by Californians would be exempt from it’s labeling requirements. And it’s no coincidence many of the food products exempted are sold by the promotors of Prop 37.”

Why this is false: The initiative covers all food sold at a grocery store, the arbitrary two-thirds number comes from the fact that foods from restaurants and farmer’s markets do not have to carry a label. This was done on purpose because restaurants and farmers markets do not give you ingredients labels and that is where the words “GMO” would appear before the specific ingredient. Requiring restaurants to disclose this information was seen as overreach. The only other exemption is alcohol. While this may seem problematic to some, alcohol is regulated under a separate set of Federal laws and California is unable to alter those rules.

The other so called “exemptions” that they point out are actually not exemptions at all. For example, they state that a chicken pot pie containing GMOs would have to be labeled but the chicken from that same pot pie wouldn’t have to be. That is because GMO chicken does not exist, and when sold separately would not require a label. However, if chicken ever became genetically modified then a label would be necessary. They also point out that milk and meat from animals fed with GMO grains would not be labeled. That is because the animals are not GMO themselves, just the food they eat is. By that logic, all us humans should carry labels because we eat GMOs, therefore we must be genetically modified. Furthermore, California only allows one issue per ballot measure and a proposition covering both GMOs themselves and animals who consume GMOs, are considered separate issues by law.

The last thing they point out is imports being exempt. That is simply not true, any food containing GMOs sold on a grocery store shelf would have to carry the label even if imported. It would be the responsibility of the grocer to place a label on the product if there is not one present due to the manufacturer not being required by their home country.

Claim: Prop 37 means higher grocery bills for California families: they state $350-$400 per year based on a study by Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants.

Why this is false: Prop 37 only requires one line of ink be placed on the labels of food containing GMOs, something that is regularly done for other reasons. It also requires that manufactures keep on hand documentation that the products bought from farmers are GMO free (if they are). This is a very minor task, as manufactures keep extensive paperwork on their products and where the source ingredients come from, as mandated by the USDA and FDA in order to track food born illnesses. The study that they refer to was conducted by a consulting firm hired by the No campaign, so it’s no wonder they came to that conclusion. The reason they give for the increase is that they believe manufactures will change their products to be GMO free rather than comply with labels, which would mean the consumer is getting an entirely different product for the change in price. However, there are also many studies to back the claim up that there would be no impact on food prices, in fact in the countries that have implemented GMO labeling laws, food prices have risen on average two-tenths of one percent, far lower than inflation. Additionally, it is odd that the consulting company’s name is Northbridge, I wonder if that is intentional to confuse people into thinking it was conducted in Northridge, CA, which it was not (Ok, maybe thats a stretch).

Claim: Prop 37 was written by trial lawyers to create a new class of shakedown lawsuits, which allows lawyers to sue family farmers and grocers without any proof of harm. It subjects farmers and grocers to huge litigation costs and lawyer payouts.

Why this is false: The truth is that Prop 37 was written by a group of food industry, farm, science and health experts, including Lundberg Family Farms, the Organic Consumers Association, Food Democracy Now!, Nature’s Path and the Center for Food Safety. Additionally, Prop 37 offers no economic incentives for lawyers to sue. Consumers cannot file a class action lawsuit without first giving notice and if the defendant fixes the labels, then no class action is permitted.  Additionally, any penalties from a violation go only to the state, not the plaintiff or lawyer.

The truth about Prop 37: The initiative was written with care and seeks to give the consumers the right to know important information about their food so that consumers can make informed personal choices. Over 60 countries already do this, and there have been no increase in food costs associated with it. This is why Prop 37 is endorsed by The Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union (Publisher of Consumer Reports), California Council of Churches, American Public Health Association, Organic Consumers Association, California Nurses Association, Sierra Club, Environmental Working Group, Whole Foods, Breast Cancer Fund, California Certified Organic Farmers, Farm Aid, California Labor Federation, American Medical Students Association, National Health Federation, California League of Conservation Voters, and hundreds others. Additionally, despite the claims that GMO’s are required to feed the world’s growing population, the reality of GMO’s in current day is that they are being used solely to maximize profit of the corporations involved in producing them and they provide no benefit to humanity as a whole because crop yields are equal when comparing GMO to Organic farming.

In fact the CALIFORNIA NURSES ASSOCIATION states that “nurses see people suffering from serious diet-related diseases every day. The potential danger of genetically modified foods is why CNA supports Prop 37.”

The No on 37 campaign is being funded with millions of dollars from pesticide, GMO, and large agribusiness corporations. The largest of all the donations come from Monsanto, the company that produced Agent Orange and DDT, claiming for years that they were safe. Monsanto is now the largest producer of  GMO seeds in the world and has pumped over $7 million into the campaign to date. You can find information on who is funding both sides here.

Do not let the pesticide industry buy the vote, I urge you to vote Yes on Prop 37.

More information about Prop 37 can be found here.

Also, please donate to the campaign here. No amount is too little and they are accepting donations up until 11/5 at 5PM Pacific Time.

About the author

Nick Andre

Nick is the Managing Editor of ModernSerenity.com and the Managing Director of Kumani Inc., a Certified Green web development and business consulting firm. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has deep passions for nutrition, organic agriculture, renewable energy, and the environment, which led him to found Modern Serenity in 2009. Nick is also a bit of a political junkie and is involved in environmental advocacy, land conservation efforts, and more.