PASADENA, CA -- The California Automatic Vendors Council is urging its members to vote against a proposal to require that all food items made with any "genetically engineered" ingredient be labeled. Proposition 37 will appear on the ballot in November, and CAVC president Larry Atnip of Atnip Co. Inc. (Fullerton) warns that it would have an extremely negative impact on operators as well as all other food retailers in the state.
"Prop. 37 would require the words 'Genetically Engineered' or 'Partially' or 'May Be Produced with Genetic Engineering' to be printed on the front label and/or grocery display of any food products that contain even trace amounts of a genetically engineered ingredient," Atnip reported. "It is estimated that as much as 70% of the processed foods in a grocery store or other retail outlet contains some GE ingredient. Retailers would be responsible for ensuring that tens of thousands of products and displays in their stores were accurately labeled.
"What's worse, Prop. 37 was written by a trial lawyer who has made a career out of suing small businesses," the CAVC president continued. "The initiative contains a new 'bounty hunter lawsuit' provision that would allow any trial lawyer to sue a grocer to 'enforce' these labeling regulations, simply by claiming that they mislabeled a food product. According to the independent California Legislative Analyst, these lawsuits could be filed without any proof of damages."
The proposal, as written, simply invites mischief, Atnip emphasized. "If Prop. 37 passes, any unscrupulous lawyer could walk the aisles looking for unlabeled products with ingredients for which GE varieties exist. Prop. 37 allows the lawyer to file suit alleging that the product is mislabeled without any testing and even without any proof that the food contains a GE ingredient."
Although advertised as a "consumer protection" measure, the initiative seems primarily designed to enrich litigators. "It doesn't matter if the product has no GE ingredients," the second-generation vend broker pointed out. The decision for the retailer then comes down to simple math: Spend tens of thousands of dollars to engage lawyers and testing labs to fight in court to prove innocence, or settle with the plaintiffs' attorney for less."
Biotechnology, also called genetic engineering, has been used for nearly two decades to grow varieties of corn, soybeans and other crops that resist diseases and insects, and so require fewer pesticides. Thousands of common foods are made with ingredients from biotech crops, Atnip explained. "The overwhelming majority of scientists, medical experts, the American Medical Association, the FDA and USDA have all concluded that genetically engineered food products are safe, and that requiring special labels for them is unnecessary and could be misleading to consumers.
"Proposition 37 is unnecessary. It's all cost, but no benefits," the CAVC president said. "It would expose you and other retailers to enormous litigation risk and new red tape and bureaucracy.
"We encourage you to get more information and involved in the 'No on 37' campaign," he advised CAVC members. Operators can get more information and sign up online at NoProp37.com, or call (800) 331-0850. The campaign has prepared displays and handouts that operators and others can use to inform their customers about the issue.