Genetically Engineered Food Label Measure Defeated in California

Among the many state ballot measures introduced during this year’s election cycle, proponents of labeling genetically engineered foods encountered a setback in California as Proposition 37 was defeated at the ballot box.  The ballot measure which would have made California the first state in the nation to require labels on certain fresh produce and processed foods, was rejected by a 53.1 percent to 46.9 percent vote. The labeling would have applied to items genetically altered foods such as corn, soybeans and beet sugar.

In the early nineties, the FDA concluded that there was no difference between genetically engineered and non-engineered plants.

Major biotech companies, including Monsanto Co., grocery manufacturers, and agricultural firms were against the measure, as they argued that it was expensive and full of loopholes that did not address foods such as meat, dairy products, eggs, or alcoholic beverages. Proposition 37’s opponents also noted that continuing the labeling fight could create hysteria about the safety of food supply in the U.S.

Opponents spent around $46 million on critical television commercials that ran statewide. Monsanto, which sells patented seed that resists the company’s Roundup herbicide, led the list of contributors with $8.1 million, followed by E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. with $5.4 million and Pepsico Inc. with $2.5 million.

Proponents of the measure argued that consumers in California should have the same “right to know” what’s in their food that shoppers have in 61 countries around the world. The pro-Proposition 37 coalition, which includes organic farmers, retailers, and consumer groups, vowed they would continue the movement in other states. Initiatives are currently underway, similar to the California effort, in Washington state next year. A second effort is also tentatively planned for Oregon in 2014.

A national coalition called Just Label It said it would continue asking the FDA to take up the labeling issue. The group also is countering efforts by the food and biotech industries to insert language in a congressional farm bill to limit federal agencies’ authority to regulate genetically engineered crops.