In November, California voters will decide on a referendum that would mandate food products containing ingredients derived from biotech crops to be labeled within the state.

The New York Times reported that some of the nation's leading organic brands, including Kashi, Cascadian Farm and Horizon Organic, have corporate owners who donated millions of dollars to defeat Proposition 37.

While Whole Foods endorsed Proposition 37 in a Sept. 11 news release, that support was qualified with reservations about certain provisions of the bill. One concern is use of a .5 percent total weight threshold as the trigger for the need to label, which is inconsistent with the long-established international labeling standard of .9 percent. Actually, the bill reduces the threshold to zero percent by 2019. Whole Foods also is concerned about enforcement. Proposition 37 has no provision to include the California Attorney General's Office to ensure objective guidance and impartial oversight; rather, enforcement will be left to private plaintiff attorneys pursuing civil litigation.

Because of the bill’s problems, Whole Foods says manufacturers may choose to label products as possibly containing biotech ingredients, even if it is not the case, to avoid costly litigation.

The latest tracking poll from the California Business Roundtable and Pepperdine U., released on Sept. 13, shows support for the ballot initiative at about two-thirds of prospective voters. If the measure passes, food companies likely will reformulate their products with more costly non-biotech or organic ingredients as they have done in countries where biotech labeling is required.

Lawyers already are gearing up to gauge the impact of Proposition 37 on food companies. The Washington Legal Foundation, a conservative legal think tank, is describing Proposition 37 as "horrendous policy" that constitutes "full employment for trial lawyers."