California Voters Still Split on Prop 37

Los Angeles, CA—According to a new poll out today (Oct. 25, 2012) in the Los Angeles Times, the Proposition 37 mandate to label genetically engineered foods faces a dead heat among California voters leading into Election Day.

Despite a huge push from the anti-Prop 37 side, including negative television ads at the rate of as many as four per hour, 44% of voters in the poll support Prop 37 and 42% oppose it. Some 14% remain undecided.

This split among voters is mirrored within the natural products industry. Just this week, John S. Shaw, CEO and executive director of the Natural Products Association (NPA), held a town hall phone call to explain NPA’s decision not to support Prop 37.

Shaw reiterated several times that the NPA fully supports shoppers’ right to know what is in their foods, and is not a proponent of genetically modified ingredients in any way. Nonetheless, Shaw stated that from NPA’s perspective there are several problematic aspects of Prop 37 that are serious causes for concern. For instance, NPA determined that the definition of “natural” within Prop 37 is worded in such a way that it would unfairly limit the marketing of foods that call themselves natural.

Furthermore, “It places every supplier, manufacturer and retailer of food products at risk of unreasonable and frivolous litigation,” Shaw stated. He emphasized the notion that “bounty hunting” under Prop 37 could harm businesses. Anyone can file a lawsuit, he stated, even if there’s no evidence the product contains GMOs. Such lawsuits are expensive to defend against, even if the defendant is innocent. Said Shaw, “If you get sued in court, you have to respond. If you don’t respond, you lose.”

Meanwhile, the Environmental Working Group held a press conference today with several big players in the organic industry that support Prop 37. Participants on the call included Michael Funk, chairman and co-founder of UNFI; Andy Berliner, CEO of Amy’s Kitchen; Arran Stephens, CEO of Nature’s Path; David Lannon, executive vice president of operations for Whole Foods Market; Jimbo Someck, CEO of Jimbo’s… Naturally!; and Steven Hoffman, managing partner of Compass Natural Marketing.

The speakers attempted to dispel concerns that the GMO labeling initiative would harm shoppers, manufacturers or retailers. Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, kicked things off by saying that the opposition (No on Prop 37) is misrepresenting the facts, and “there’s a need to correct the record.”

Several panelists, including Lannon, expressed hope that Prop 37 would be a gateway for a federal mandate to label GMOs. Funk equated the situation to when California became the first state to offer organic labeling, and then other states (and later the nation) followed suit.

Funk also noted that in his eyes as a distributor, there’s no evidence that there will be increased costs as a result of Prop 37. Berliner agreed, noting that in other places that require GMO labeling like Europe, food costs haven’t gone up. Dairy is actually cheaper, he said, and even big companies like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola can sell non-GMO products overseas without increased costs.

Berliner raised the point that GMO products are often grown with more pesticides than non-GMO. He added that long-term safety studies are not available on GMOs. “You don’t want to be feeding people your experiments without their knowledge, and certainly not without extensive testing,” he stated.

As for costly lawsuits under Prop 37, Someck and others feel this isn’t a realistic possibility given the way the proposition is written.

Published by WholeFoods Magazine Online (online 10/25/12)