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The Truth about Trade

RSS By: Dean Kleckner,

Dean is Chairman Emeritus of 'Truth About Trade & Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group led by a volunteer board of American farmers.

You Have the Right to Know What California Prop 37 Really Does!

Oct 04, 2012

 By Ted Sheely: Lemoore, California

The pistachios I grow on my farm aren’t genetically modified, so I was astonished to learn that if Proposition 37 passes next month, the new labeling law will affect my crop.
There won’t even be a good reason for it. Prop 37 would deliver another hard blow in a bad economy--and it will hurt not just me, but every Californian.
Advocates of Prop 37 say they support the "right to know." They repeat this phrase like a mantra.
So let’s exercise our right to know. Prop 37 is widely described as a referendum to require special labels for foods with genetically modified ingredients, but it’s much more than this. Its wording is full of political agendas, bizarre contradictions, and hidden costs that will drive up your grocery-store bill.
The first thing to know is that Prop 37 wasn’t drafted by concerned consumers. Instead, it was written by a trial lawyer, James Wheaton. He and his fellow litigators have a financial stake in the passage of Prop 37. Their scheme is to search for opportunities to sue anybody who fails to comply with Prop 37’s complicated requirements.
A number of years ago, Wheaton wrote Prop 65, an ineffective law that requires business to post signs about chemicals. Wheaton’s law firm has collected more than $3 million by suing California businesses for alleged violations of Prop 65, many of them minor.
Mom-and-pop grocers may find themselves especially vulnerable to Prop 37 lawsuits because unlike chain stores, they don’t retain lawyers to help them navigate the fine print of new regulations. They’ll be easy marks for aggressive attorneys.
While Wheaton and his lawyer buddies get rich, you’re going to become a bit poorer. According to one estimate, Prop 37 will make the average California family spend an extra $350 per year on food. That’s because the law will demand new methods of production, distribution, and packaging. Companies will pass these additional costs on to consumers.
People who are least able to pay will suffer the most: seniors on fixed incomes, the unemployed, and the poor.
Perhaps these high costs would be worth it if Prop 37 were to deliver a benefit. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. "There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods," said the American Medical Association this summer, in an official policy statement.
Who do you trust more about the safety and nutritional value of your food: lawyers or doctors?
Prop 37 is also full of loopholes. It carves out exceptions for food served in restaurants, which would not have to carry labels. Alcohol, cheese, meat, and milk also would receive special treatment.
Oddly enough, pet food probably will have to carry labels. That’s nice: Apparently your dog will enjoy a complete "right to know," even if you don’t.
No wonder the Sacramento Bee editorialized against Prop 37: "We don’t oppose labeling of genetically modified food," it wrote, but this particular referendum "is a classic example of an initiative that shouldn’t be on the ballot."
The weird treatment of my pistachio farm provides an excellent example of why Prop 37 is so misconceived.
My pistachio trees are not genetically modified, and they behave just as pistachio trees are supposed to behave: They grow nuts, whose shells crack open naturally. We harvest the pistachios, then roast and salt them.
Before shipping them off, we put them in packages, which describe our product as "naturally opened pistachios." That’s what they are, so that’s what we call them.
Prop 37 will make us stop. The problem is the word "naturally." Our pistachio shells may split open on their own, without any human help. Yet we can’t say they open "naturally" because Prop 37 redefines the word. When we roast and salt our pistachios, we somehow make them unnatural--at least according to Prop 37’s crazy definition.
If Prop 37 passes, I’ll suffer from a competitive disadvantage. I’ll have to rethink my entire business model because of a flawed law. Meantime, trial lawyers will line their pockets as you bear the cost of higher food prices for pistachios and many other ordinary products.
Fellow Californians: You not only have a right to know this--you need to know this.
Ted Sheely raises lettuce, cotton, tomatoes, wheat, pistachios, wine grapes and garlic on a family farm in the California San Joaquin Valley. He volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade & Technology
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COMMENTS (1 Comments)

Ric Ohge - Belmond, IA
Speaking of "Right TO Know", here's the myths from the "Anti" Side (or the 'Dark Side' as I like to call it.):
Myth #1: GE labeling will mean higher food costs.

TRUTH: Opponents of labeling claim that mandatory GE food labeling would increase food costs for the average family by $600 to $825 per year, but since the opponents are the ones doing the analysis, it’s not surprising that they’re grossly overestimated. On the contrary, an impartial consulting firm did a study in 2001 for the U.K. Food Standards Agency and found that GE labeling would increase a household’s annual food spending by only 0.01 to 0.17 percent — a very small figure ranging from an increase of $.33 to $5.58 in 2010 real U.S. dollars (inflation-adjusted) annually. Plus, food companies change their labels all the time (New and Improved! Heart Healthy!).

Myth #2: GE labeling means more bureaucracy and taxpayer costs.

TRUTH: The monitoring and enforcement required for mandatory labeling doesn’t have to be difficult as long as?all players participated in labeling along all steps of the food chain. Federal and state agencies could simply add GE labeling to existing food labeling requirements that they already assess during compliance inspections.

Myth #3: GE labeling would burden grocers and retailers with mountains of paperwork.

TRUTH: Changing food labeling to indicate the presence of a GE ingredient wouldn’t be any different for grocery stores than stocking a product that has changed its ingredients or added a nutritional-benefit claim to the package. For foods that the store handles (such as produce or some meat that is repackaged on site), retailers will have to be sure that GE and non-GE products are kept separately and labeled as such, just like they currently do with country-of-origin and pricing information.

Myth #4: It is not the responsibility of the states to create food-labeling requirements.

TRUTH: States often lead the way when the federal government is too slow, too gridlocked or too weak to take action. Long before the United States enacted a mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) policy, eight states required this labeling on their own. Renewable energy standards are a good example – California has been building its renewable energy program since 1998 and today leads the country in renewable energy use and is the standard other states strive to match. Hopefully California will also lead the country in establishing mandatory GE labeling when a majority of Californians vote for Prop 37 this November.

Myth #5: GE labeling conflicts with science.

TRUTH: This one couldn’t be further from the truth. The chronic effects of eating GE foods are still largely unknown. And without labeling of GE foods, we cannot associate any health problems with people who ate them — because we do not know who ate them. Since the FDA has no way to track adverse health effects in people consuming GE foods, and because there is no requirement that food containing GE ingredients be labeled, there is no effective way to gather data on health problems that may be happening. Science is all about knowledge, testing and discovery. GE labels will only increase everyone’s knowledge and institute a system whereby more testing and track-back is available to trace the possible health problems that could arise through ingesting certain GE ingredients.

MYTH #6: California’s Proposition 37 will result in frivolous lawsuits.

TRUTH: According to the California Right to Know Campaign, the lawsuits argument is a red herring. Food companies accurately label for calories, fat content and other information required by law; likewise they will abide by the requirements of Prop 37. According to an independent legal analysis by James Cooper, JD, PhD, of George Mason University School of Law, Proposition 37 is unlikely to result in frivolous lawsuits.

MYTH #7: Prop. 37 would prohibit processed foods from being marketed as “natural.”

TRUTH: According to the California Right to Know Campaign, Proposition 37 applies only to genetically engineered foods, not other foods. Processed foods such as canned olives could still be marketed as “natural” as long as the food is not genetically engineered.

The fight to make GE labels the law is a battle of more information vs. less. These corporations are not spending millions for our benefit. They are spending millions to protect their profits and maintain the status quo of keeping it customers in the dark. To learn more, read Food & Water Watch’s latest fact sheet: How Much Will Labeling Genetically Engineered Foods Really Cost and join the campaign to make GE labels the law.
11:38 AM Oct 5th
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