Farm Bureau News
Proposition 37 would have required that foods containing biotech crops be labeled as being "genetically engineered" with "natural" allowed to describe only unprocessed food. The label would have been California-only, thus requiring multiple labels for California commodities shipped out of state.
Farm Bureau opposed this proposition as a disaster, loaded with direct and indirect impacts causing costly problems for farmers, processors, and consumers that may have exceeded $1.2 billion.
"We’re pleased that voters saw the many flaws in Proposition 37 and rejected it," CFBF president Paul Wenger said in a statement. "It would have created confusion about food safety and raised food costs, and it would have created all sorts of complications for family farmers and others who grow or sell food."
Farm Bureau steps up
"Farm Bureau peeled away the layers of this proposition and revealed it for what it was: bad law," said Bruce Blodgett, executive director of SJFB. "The ag industry as a whole spent millions to defeat this."
He added that Farm Bureau representatives fanned out to speak to community groups such as Lions and Rotary clubs and to groups urban and otherwise so the public would understand the details of Prop. 37. "No one reads the ballot, so we had to inform people in other ways, by talking about it, and getting the word into mailboxes and onto the airways," Blodgett said.
"It was a grass roots effort," said SJFB president Bruce Fry. "Prop. 37 was flawed in the first place, a very extreme and expensive labeling requirement, and we had to educate the public about it. The work that CFBF did was a big factor in the defeat of this proposition."
Prop 37 bad news, poorly drafted
The news voters received pointed out how the profoundly unsound food labeling ploy would have banned the sale of tens of thousands of perfectly safe, common food products if they weren’t repackaged, relabeled, or remade with high cost ingredients.
The proposition would also have increased government bureaucracy and red tape and taxpayers costs along with creating a new class of lawsuits with resulting higher food prices without providing any health or safety benefits and with no limit on how much taxpayer money could be spent to enforce it.
"It was a poorly drafted proposition that would have allowed more ‘private right of action’ and encouraged more ‘bounty hunter’ lawsuits," said Richard Matteis, administrator of CFBF. "We had a very serious problem with Proposition 37."
The paperwork burden alone could have been cataclysmic with growers of non-biotech crops required to submit sworn statements for crops sold to food processors and the record keeping for thousands of crops and food products would have added significant costs and bureaucracy to the ag industry.
No justification, huge fines, lawsuits
Both the USDA and the American Medical Association said there was no "scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered food."
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Proposition 37 was the increased potential for "bounty hunter" lawsuits where attorneys would be able to sue farmers, food companies, and grocers to "enforce" the labeling regulations with fines as high as $1,000 per day for non-compliance.
Proposition 37 would have also allowed lawsuits without providing any notice to defendants, no "cure period", and without giving a public prosecutor the first opportunity to enforce the law.
"There are many ways to learn what’s in food without drastic measures such as Proposition 37," said Matteis. Info already available
Programs are already in place that make Proposition 37 unnecessary, according to Wenger who said Farm Bureau will continue to support comprehensive regulatory programs that guarantee biotech crops are safe and "produced in a way that protects the environment. We believe biotech crops to be safe, but if people choose not to consume foods produced through biotechnology, there are alternatives such as organic products or those voluntarily labeled as being made without use of genetically engineered ingredients."
"Propositions like 37 mean legislators aren’t resolving the challenges in California and that they’ve surrendered to ballot box legislation," said Fry. "Legislators need to do their job and not sit back and have the public do it for them."
Due to the efforts of Farm Bureau and a variety of partnerships and coalitions Proposition 37 was defeated but it is almost certain that something of a similar nature will come around again.