September 27 2012

Proposed California Food Labeling Mandate an Expensive Power Grab

Vicki E. Alger

California’s Nanny State is trying to foist another expensive power grab on taxpayers under the guise of consumer protection. Proposition 37 proponents want genetically engineered (GE) foods labeled. What are GE foods? According to California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, which examined Proposition 37, “Genetic engineering is the process of changing the genetic material of a living organism to produce some desired change in that organism’s characteristics.”

Currently, 88 percent of all corn and 94 percent of all soybeans produced in the U.S. were grown from GE seeds. GE crops are also used to make ingredients like high fructose corn syrup used in processed foods. By some estimates, up to 70 percent of food products sold in California grocery stores have some GE ingredients, according to the LAO. A separate study found that Proposition 37 would increase the cost of selling food in California by up to $5.2 billion each year

The proposed labeling requirement would also add as much as $400 a year to the typical California family’s grocery bill, do nothing to improve food safety, and diminish families’ food choices, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Gregory Conko and Stanford University’s Henry Miller. As they recently wrote in Forbes:

Prop. 37 would not only create a large new bureaucracy but also encourages bounty-hunter, or shakedown, litigation to enforce the rules. Lawsuits could be filed even against those following the law, because no proof of a violation is required. In fact, according to California’s independent non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office, Prop. 37 would allow trial lawyers “to sue without needing to demonstrate that any specific damage occurred as a result of the alleged violation.” The initiative is a trial lawyer’s dream – and an invitation to abuse — which is not surprising given that it was written by a California trial lawyer who has spent his career suing large and small businesses. …

In order to pass constitutional muster, labeling laws must bear directly on safety, nutrition or similar concerns. Prop. 37 clearly does not, and if it were approved by the voters, the state would need to spend years and millions of taxpayer dollars defending a lost cause in the federal courts.

Consumers do have viable alternatives, however. The Constitution also protects the right to sell non-genetically engineered foods and to advertise that fact on product labels, and over just the last decade, more than 7,000 new food and beverage products have been introduced in the United States with explicit non-GE labeling, joining thousands of others that have been on the market since the early 1990s. And groups ranging from Greenpeace to the Organic Consumers Association have created websites, printed pocket guides and even smart phone apps that direct purchasers to “GE-Free” products.

California voters will make the call about Proposition 37 on November 6. If it passes, and the Los Angeles Times reports odds are two to one it will, all retail foods will have to be labeled beginning July 1 of next year.

Those of us not living in California will be sure to throw an extra burger on the grill and have plenty of GE-label-free potato salad and corn on the cob on hand to celebrate Independence Day.

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