California Secretary of State Debra Bowen certified the controversial mandatory biotech labeling referendum for the state's Nov. 6 general election ballot. The initiative needed 504,760 valid petition signatures, which is equal to 5 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the Nov. 2010 election.

She quoted the attorney general's official title and summary of the initiative as follows: “If approved by voters, the biotech labeling ballot measure would require labeling or reformulation of thousands of grocery products and specifically prohibit advertising processed foods including biotech crops as ‘natural.’” The proposition allows for multiple exemptions; up to two thirds of foods commonly eaten would not be labeled including those sold at restaurants or for immediate consumption, those that are certified organic, or those that are produced unintentionally with biotech crops.

(For more, see: Time to take on anti-biotech crowd over GMO labeling)

A broad coalition of agriculture, food, consumer and business groups is opposed to the measure because it would change FDA’s long-standing policy on mandated labeling and could be viewed by consumers as a warning label. The World Health Organization, American Medical Assoc. and the National Academy of Sciences have confirmed that foods made with ingredients from biotech seeds are as safe as, and in some cases safer than, foods with non-biotech ingredients.

Currently, voluntary labeling is permissible under federal law and policy -- allowing food companies to advertise their products with labels like “non-GMO.” However, federal law prohibits labeling that is misleading, including mandatory labeling of biotech-derived food products that are no different than non-biotech foods.

(For more, see: Campaign to label biotech foods a waste of time and money)

Government officials have estimated a potential increase in state administrative costs of up to $1 million annually to monitor compliance with the labeling requirements. The initiative also would likely generate lawsuits that will be fought at taxpayer expense, which California officials say could be significant.