The Presidential election will no doubt be the most hotly contested ticket tomorrow, however, the eyes of the regulatory world will be on California as residents on the left coast will finally have their say on Proposition 37, a ballot initiative that would require food and supplement companies to disclose if their products were produced with genetic engineering.
While any initiative that provides greater food chain transparency might seem like a good idea on paper, it’s the fiscal impact that’s giving business and residents the greatest pause. According to the California General Election Guide, the costs could include "increased annual state costs ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to over $1 million to regulate the labeling of genetically engineered foods,” as well as “potential, but likely not significant, costs to state and local governments due to litigation resulting from possible violations of the requirements of this measure.”
Louis Finkel, executive vice president of government affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturers Association, which opposes the initiative, noted that, among other issues, “Not only would the labels deliver misleading information to consumers, but because this is a California-only ballot measure, it would also require herbal product companies to establish separate processing, distribution, tracking and paperwork requirements for products sold in that state—a logistical and bureaucratic nightmare.”
Just like the Presidential race, the Prop 37 debate has been a fiery one. There are websites for and against the initiative. There have been many newspaper editorials. Cookbook author and chef Mark Bittman even took to the New York Times with an opinion column that accused the biotech sector of using scare tactics to sway the vote in favor of genetically modified foods.
Indeed, the labeling of modified foods is a tricky and slippery slope. The Natural Products Association (NPA), Washington, D.C., issued a statement in support of the right of consumers “to know what ingredients go into their food products,” however, it opposed Prop 37 “due to concerns about the enforcement provision as well as the way the proposition defines natural foods.” NPA said it believed those aspects of the proposition would negatively affect the ability of suppliers and retailers to provide food products to California consumers.
“While NPA supports the consumers’ right to know about the foods they purchase and appreciates the transparency Proposition 37 offers regarding genetically engineered foods, we cannot support the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” the association said. “NPA is very concerned with the enforcement provision as well as the limited definition of natural included in the language. Proposition 37 places every supplier, manufacturer and retailer of food products at risk of unreasonable and frivolous litigation. We are concerned the restrictions on natural foods in the proposition language could create a difficult business environment in California and further hinder the ability of our members to sell natural products.”
John Shaw, NPA’s executive director and CEO, said this decision was made after a “thoughtful and robust” discussion about the potential impact the passage of Prop 37 could have on the industry and California consumers. “We’re especially concerned about the effect the enforcement provision could have on small retailers across the state, not to mention the possibility of fewer food options for California consumers,” he said. “We hope that California voters will take our views into consideration when going to the polls this November.”
In 2007, the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) expressed its support for the labeling of consumer goods to identify any genetically engineered herbal ingredients. “The scope of this policy is limited only to raw materials that are intentionally produced with a GE crop, and excludes minor ingredients and unintentional mixing of GE and non-GE ingredients,” AHPA said, noting that at that time, the policy was voluntary and so placed no obligation on its members. However at a recent meeting in July, the AHPA board of trustees discussed Prop 37 and determined to refrain from taking a formal position either in support of or in opposition to the initiative.
Nutraceuticals World will update this article as more details become available following the election tomorrow.