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Various Authors 3:49 p.m., Dec. 3
The Washington Legal Foundation, a D.C. nonprofit group organized around pro-business and free market principles, has released two recent op-ed pieces questioning the wisdom of California’s Proposition 37, which would require the labeling of food products whose manufacturers knowingly use genetically modified organisms in the production process, and would prohibit such products from being labeled as “natural.”
Compelled Speech: Is California the Too Much Information State argues that labeling of products has gone too far. For example it points to California’s Prop 65, which requires that signs be posted in many public places informing consumers of the presence of known cancer-causing chemicals. Anastasia Killian, writing for the Foundation, says that the measure “has wrought a cottage industry built around strike suits under the act’s private attorney general provisions.”
Killian also points to the recent defeat of the city of San Francisco in a bid to mandate disclosures regarding a supposed risk of cancer linked to cellular phone emissions. Both a lower court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the disclosures “misleading and controversial,” and thus undermined the First Amendment rights of cellular phone vendors.
She further argues that, per the federal Supreme Court, any government mandated disclosure must be “purely factual and uncontroversial.” Using this logic, because a controversy exists over whether or not genetically modified foods are safe, food manufacturers could not be forced to disclose their presence.
Mandated Biotech Food Labeling Proposal: Regulate to Eliminate, penned by Glenn Lammi for the Foundation, begins with a Reuters news service quote related to a new French study of genetically modified corn that erroneously states that “opponents of genetically engineered foods in California are fighting to have all GMOs removed from the food supply.”
Lammi suggests that while Reuters got the facts wrong, they may have accurately stated the ultimate goal of proponents of labeling lab-engineered foods. Polling data among food producers supports his claim, strongly suggesting that many fear consumer rejection of their products if they were to disclose modified content, and would rather switch to costlier non-modified ingredients than label their packaging using existing ingredients.
Some supporters of Prop 37 are openly admitting that they see consumer disclosure as a means to curtailing the use of genetically modified products entirely. Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association, cited by Lammi as the second largest supporter of the Yes on 37 campaign, told the New York Times that “if a company like Kellogg’s has to print a label stating that their famous Corn Flakes have been genetically engineered, it will be the kiss of death for their iconic brand in California,” and that if the initiative passes “we will be on our way to getting GE-tainted foods out of our nation’s food supply for good.”
The Organic Consumers Association, per the California Secretary of State, has provided about $550,000 in funding to the Yes campaign, while top donor Joseph Mercola, an Illinois-based alternative health promoter, has spent $800,000.
Most funding for the No campaign has come from outside the state as well, with the two largest contributors, Monsanto of St. Louis and E.I. DuPont of Washington, D.C. pouring over $12 million into the campaign as of mid-September.
Lammi closes with a warning: “The suffering you’ve felt from drought-related food price increases this year will feel like a minor bump in the road compared to the cost ramifications of eliminating biotech-derived ingredients,” he says, and tells voters that “without biotechnology, it will be impossible to feed the world’s growing population.”