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GUEST OPINION: No on Prop. 37

Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 5, 2012 at 5:57 p.m.

Proposition 37 is being sold to voters as a measure to provide consumers with more information about what's in their food. Sounds simple enough. But this is a classic case of “buyer beware.” There is nothing simple about Proposition 37, a deceptive and flawed ballot measure filled with provisions that will heap new costs on shoppers, grocers and food producers.

Proposition 37 will not provide helpful information to consumers. It will simply provide a new source for shakedown lawsuits for trial lawyers and layers of new bureaucracy at a steep cost to all Californians.

Experts have calculated that this proposition will cost farmers and food producers $1.2billion in higher costs and add $400 a year to the average consumer's grocery bills. California's already suffering economy simply cannot afford these hits.

An Oct. 1 editorial in The Press Democrat summed up Proposition 37 perfectly, “In short, the state doesn't need it, families can't afford it, and the science simply doesn't warrant it.”

Proposition 37 amounts to a California-only ban of tens of thousands of perfectly safe, common grocery products containing genetically engineered ingredients, unless they are specially repackaged, relabeled or remade with higher-cost ingredients.

It mandates new paperwork requirements for California's entire agriculture industry, whether GE crops are involved or not. This measure exposes farmers and food producers to a bumper crop of lawsuits, because provisions buried in fine print allow trial lawyers to sue family farmers, grocers and small businesses even if they are following the law.

The proposition's author, trial lawyer James Wheaton, and his contemporaries, have made careers out of suing small businesses under rules he helped write into another ballot measure — Proposition 65.

On top of the added costs, Proposition 37 also would lead to needless confusion and even fear among smart consumers looking to make healthy choices.

To be clear, I support providing food information to consumers. But food labeling should be based on fact, not fear.

This measure will produce misleading and confusing, not helpful, information and ignores scientific and medical research that has determined that GE ingredients pose no health risk. In fact, tens of thousands of common foods are made with ingredients from biotech or genetically engineered crops.

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

The American Medical Association says “There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods.”

Meanwhile, Proposition 37 is full of exemptions for foods than can contain GE ingredients. Pet foods containing meat require labels, but all meat for human consumption is exempt. Food imported from foreign countries is exempt if sellers merely include a statement that their products are “GE free.” Unscrupulous foreign companies easily could game the system.

The measure also contains a confusing provision that would prohibit any food that is pasteurized, heated, dried, juiced or otherwise processed from being labeled or advertised as “natural” even if there's no GE ingredients in the food. A raw orange could be labeled natural, for example. But when that orange is squeezed into juice (processed) it could no longer be called “natural” orange juice.

Scientists, doctors, small businesses, family farmers, grocery retailers, community, consumer groups and economic experts across California are issuing warnings about Proposition 37's mountain of hidden costs and unforeseen consequences. Information is good, indeed. But not this way, and not at these costs.

Vote no on Proposition 37.

Ruth Waltonspiel and her husband, Ronald, grew, dried, packaged and shipped organically grown dried fruits between 1957 and 2003. They now grow grapes on 200 acres near Healdsburg and in Geyserville.

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