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Public Affairs

California’s Prop 37 Would Have Benefited Trial Lawyers, Not Consumers

Gene Grabowski

By now everyone knows California voters defeated a proposed law that would have mandated labeling of all food and beverage products containing genetically modified ingredients. Proposition 37, as it was known, was added to the ballot despite the fact that more than 80 percent of the processed foods we eat contain biotech ingredients and they have been safely consumed in the United States for years.
Now that California voters have rejected the idea of labeling all foods with genetically modified ingredients, supporters of failed Proposition 37 are saying they lost because food and agricultural interests outspent them. No doubt, the ability of food manufacturers, seed companies, and food retailers to broadly disseminate messages in the media before the vote was a factor. But the central reason for rejecting the measure was that it proposed a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.
The two leading U.S. crops used in food today, soybeans and corn, have long been enhanced through biotechnology to resist drought, herbicides, and destructive insects – and there are no proven data to support claims that they are in any way unsafe. In fact, biotechnology has saved farmers and consumers in the U.S. – and around the world – billions of dollars. Moreover, it has prevented the starvation of millions people in Africa and Asia.
What’s more, had Prop 37 passed, implementing it would have unnecessarily cost most California households hundreds of dollars a year in higher grocery bills because of added labeling and ingredient-tracing costs that would have been food companies’ responsibility.
In fact, the real beneficiaries from Proposition 37’s passage would have been the trial lawyers.
That’s because the teeth in the failed labeling law resided in its private enforcement provisions, which would have allowed citizens to sue companies to force compliance, similar to California’s existing Proposition 65. Those “bounty-hunter” provisions would have encouraged consumer activists and their lawyers to file lawsuits against grocers and manufacturers for failing to properly label foods like corn flakes or soy milk without any evidence that stores or food companies had harmed anyone.
Whether or not you believe California’s voters did the right thing by rejecting Proposition 37, one thing is certain: they saved millions of people money that would inevitably have been spent on compliance and litigation with no tangible benefit to consumers.
I never thought I’d be saying this, but thank you, California, for exercising common sense.
Gene Grabowski is an Executive Vice President at LEVICK and a contributing author to LEVICK Daily.

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