California asked to decide on GMO labeling
The California ballot scheduled for November 6 2012 will ask its citizens to decide on Proposition 37, requiring manufacturers to clearly indicate the presence of genetically engineered ingredients (GMOs) on its food labels. It is estimated that between 40 and 70 percent of food currently sold in California supermarkets contains GMOs yet neither Federal nor State regulations require food labels to disclose these ingredients.
With regard to the allocation of legal responsibility, onus would be on retailers to ensure their products are adequately labelled in accordance with the proposed regulations and individuals and companies would be able to sue for incidents on non-compliance.
Supporters of the law, such as the ‘Yes on 37’ campaign, argue that consumers have a right to make informed decisions about the food they eat. They look to the inconclusive findings on research into the potential health risks of GMOs as especially important in emphasising the need for full disclosure. The ‘Yes to 37’ campaign has received over 2,000 endorsements from health, food and environmental organisations including the American Public Health Association, Consumer federation of America, United Farm Workers and the Center for Food Safety.
Major opponents of Prop 37 include the “Big Six” pesticide firms ((Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer, Dow, BASF and Syngenta) as well as companies such as Nestle, Coca Cola, Pepsi Co. and General Mills. They point to a report produced by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office outlining the estimated fiscal effects of the new law as evidence of its detrimental consequences. This report foresees an increase in state administrative costs from the roll out and enforcement of regulations of up to USD1 million annually.
Critics of the law also suggest the expanded scope for litigation will result in a large number of claims being made. However, legal analysts have asserted that Prop 37 will actually bring greater legal certainty regarding companies’ food labeling obligations.
Similar standards of GMO disclosure as those proposed in Prop 37 are already in force in most European countries, Japan, India and China. California’s decision on November 6 will have important consequences for food labeling regulation generally in the USA.