I recently returned from an annual meeting with agricultural association representatives from across the country and learned all eyes are following the outcome of California’s Prop 37 – a voter initiative on the November ballot that aims to include labeling “warnings” to consumers that products so tagged are made with genetically engineered (GE) ingredients.

I call it a “warning” because the general public – which has been brainwashed by green activists into believing GE crops are unnatural “Frankenfoods” – will likely avoid buying these products even though the American Medical Association endorses their consumption and believes there’s no material difference between GE foods and unmodified foods.

The annual meeting – this year held in the once wild and wooly Old West town of Deadwood in the Black Hills of South Dakota – brings association representatives together to compare notes on hot-button agricultural issues affecting them in their respective states. This year California’s Prop 37 took center stage.

“There are as many as 20 states this year with similar labeling bills on their ballots,” said Abe Basu, of the Biotechnology Industry Organization based in Washington, D.C. Basu pointed out that what sets Prop 37 apart from the rest is it is just not a labeling regulation, but impacts various foods now sold as having “natural” ingredients. And he noted that such GE labeling does in no way improve the nutritional needs and benefits of the food being sold. “If passed, this measure is going to result in endless lawsuits being filed and will force companies and growers to keep mounds of additional records in the likely event they eventually will get sued. It’s going to be a field day for lawyers.”

For more: Prop 37 losing support in California

Heather Hansen, executive director of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests, added that her state is watching the outcome of California’s initiative because if it passes, activists in Washington state promise to champion a future ballot measure there.

Several recent media polls have measured voter opinion on Prop 37 and a majority of potential voters say they “want to know what is in their foods” and that this information should not be kept secret.  This is fair enough; however, Prop 37 contains ominous tentacles that reach beyond simply informing consumers of GE contents. This threat is what makes the GE labeling crusade so dangerous to agriculture. No other state in the union requires these types of labels on foodstuffs.

Gaming the system

For instance, Prop 37 would ban foods from being labeled or marketed as “natural” if they have been processed in any way – even if they contain no GE ingredients. That includes foods that have been dried, roasted, smoked, pressed, cooked, fermented, milled, frozen or canned. This means that under Prop 37 a raw almond could be marketed as “natural” but the same almond that has merely been salted, roasted or canned, could not.  A raw apple could be labeled “naturally grown,” but once that apple is cooked and churned into apple sauce, even if the sole ingredient is apple, the apple sauce would lose the “natural” designation.

It gets even sillier. Prop. 37 requires that food sold in a grocery store have a label, but that same food sold in a restaurant is exempt; food imported from China and other foreign countries are exempt if the sellers simply declare their products are “GE free” – talk about gaming the system and competitively putting our own businessmen and growers at a disadvantage!

For more: Prop 37 will hurt every Californian

Now let’s address the legal nightmare Prop 37 will create.  According to the nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst, Prop 37 would allow trial lawyers “to sue without needing to demonstrate that any specific damaged occurred as a result of the alleged violation.” This means that law-abiding grocers, farmers, manufacturers and distributors could be sued for products that are labeled properly. They would need to choose between spending tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers and tests to demonstrate the product is “GE free,” or settle out of court.

This smacks of the same repercussions that resulted from the passage of California’s Prop 65 a few years back, known as the “Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act.” The measure prohibits the willful dumping of cancer-causing and pregnancy-endangering chemicals, as well as exposing people to such chemicals without notice. Since the law’s inception, Prop 65 has created a cottage industry in windfall lawsuit adjudications, generating more than 16,000 actions against businesses and nearly $500 million in settlements, attorneys fees and costs. About $3 million of those costs have gone to official Prop 37 crusader James Wheaton and his associates.

According to a study released in early September by UC Davis, Prop 37 would result in $1.2 billion in higher costs for farmers and food processors, higher prices for consumers and a crush of costly regulations with no benefits.

“The proposed regulations have no basis in science and impose rules that would have significant costs for food producers, processors and marketers, and ultimately for consumers, while providing misinformation and no demonstrable benefits, write professors Julian Alston and Daniel Sumner, of the Agricultural and Resource Economics Department at Davis.

As I’ve written on this subject before, the long and short of it is that consumers who wish to avoid biotech foods already have the option to buy foods that have been certified organic by the USDA and other third-party entities. The last thing California’s struggling economy needs is an avalanche of shakedown lawsuits hitting businesses.  And the last thing consumers and taxpayers need is higher food costs.

Tell your friends to spread the word, Prop 37 should be soundly rejected this November.