Published on: 21:33PM Oct 01, 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 www.truthabouttrade.org