Many ballot initiatives are based on a good principle, but are drafted in such a defective way in order to achieve the principle sought that they do not deserve to be approved. Proposition 37 is a case in point.
If approved, the initiative would require both raw and processed foods to bear a label with information about whether they were produced from plants or animals that were genetically modified in a specific manner. It also forbids the use of the qualification “natural” on the labeling or advertising for these and other processed products. At the same time, the initiative exempts several product categories from this requirement.
We think consumers have the right to be informed about the products they eat. In this respect, we agree with the authors of this initiative. Likewise, we recognize that the major food industry that currently opposes the measure has never been in favor of having consumers be well informed about the content of their products. The problem is that Proposition 37 is more complicated than just that.
The initiative starts with the suspicion that genetically modified products, largely corn seeds, canola, soy and beet sugar, can be harmful to health.
This takes advantage of a similar concern shared by a majority of Americans, despite the fact that this fear has been refuted by the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In addition, the initiative establishes a system that allows anyone to file a lawsuit about bad labeling, without having to prove any damages.
It also establishes exceptions such as alcohol–among many others–that put into doubt the argument of the harmfulness of genetically modified products. Restaurant foods are also exempted from the requirements.
Finally, the measure creates a definition of “natural” foods that, according to the Legislative Analyst, could ban processed foods that are not genetically modified from being considered “natural.” The ambiguous language of the initiative can even prevent companies from calling a product “natural” if it has been subject to “processing such as canning, smoking, cooking, freezing,” among others.
Proposition 37, for all its interest in providing information and maintaining consumers’ health, seems like a marketing plan supported by the organic foods industry against the large farming and cattle industry. That could be why its supporters never tried their luck with the California Legislature. Maybe the Legislature could have fixed the way it is drafted so that it would really become a logical, balanced proposal. Vote No on Proposition 37.