California Proposition 37, Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food (2012)
|Referred by:||Petition signatures|
|Status:||On the ballot|
- 1 Text of measure
- 2 Support
- 3 Opposition
- 4 Editorial opinion
- 5 Polling information
- 6 Path to the ballot
- 7 Lawsuits
- 8 External links
- 9 References
If Proposition 37 is approved by voters, it will:
- Require labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if the food is made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.
- Prohibit labeling or advertising such food as "natural."
- Exempt from this requirement foods that are "certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages."
James Wheaton, who filed the ballot language for the initiative, refers to it as "The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act."
Text of measure
Note: The original title given to Proposition 37 by election officials during the petition circulation stage was, "Genetically Engineered Foods. Mandatory Labeling. Initiative Statute."
The state's official voter guide includes two summaries for each statewide ballot measure. One summary, in bullet-point format, appears in the long-form description of each measure. A shorter form of the summary appears on the ballot label in the front of the voter guide, where there is a short description of each measure.
The long-form summary for Proposition 37 says:
The short-form (ballot label) summary for Proposition 37 says:
|"Requires labeling of food sold to consumers made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways. Prohibits marketing such food, or other processed food, as 'natural.' Provides exemptions."|
Neither of the two summaries in the final voter guide is identical to the summary that was originally given to Proposition 37, when its sponsors sought a summary prior to circulating petitions to qualify the measure for the ballot. The summary that was given by election officials to Proposition 37 at that time said:
|"Requires labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways. Prohibits labeling or advertising such food as “natural.” Exempts foods that are: certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages."|
(This is a summary of the initiative's estimated "fiscal impact on state and local government" prepared by the California Legislative Analyst's Office and the Director of Finance.)
Note: The original fiscal note given to Proposition 37 by election officials during the petition circulation stage was, "Potential increase in state administrative costs of up to one million dollars annually to monitor compliance with the disclosure requirements specified in the measure. Unknown, but potentially significant, costs for the courts, the Attorney General, and district attorneys due to litigation resulting from possible violations to the provisions of this measure."
- Organic Consumers' Association
- Nature's Path
- The Institute for Responsible Technology
- The California Democratic Party
The arguments in favor of Proposition 37 in the state's official voter guide were submitted by:
- Dr. Michelle Pero. Pero is a pediatrician.
- Rebecca Spector. Spector is the West Coast Director of the Center for Food Safety.
- Grant Lundberg. Lundberg is the Chief Executive Officer of Lundberg Family Farms.
- Jamie Court. Court is the president of Consumer Watchdog
- Jim Cochran. Cochran is the general manager of Swanton Berry Farm.
- Dr. Marcia Ishil-Eiteman. Ishil-Eiteman is a senior scientist with the Pesticide Action Network.
Arguments in favor
The arguments presented in favor of Proposition 37 in the state's official voter guide include:
- "You should have the right to know what's in your food."
- "You'll have the information you need about foods that some physicians and scientists say are linked to allergies and other significant health risks."
- "Over 40 countries around the world require labels for genetically modified foods."
| Total campaign cash |
as of October 14, 2012
Joseph Mercola is one of the main financial supporters of the initiative. He is an osteopath who lives in suburban Chicago. According to Mercola, "Your health care, your food supply, everything you need to live a healthy life is now being taken away and controlled by a massive industrial complex and corrupt government."
These are the $50,000 and over donors to the "yes" campaign as of October 14, 2012:
|Organic Consumers Fund||$1,334,865|
|Mercola Health Resources||$1,115,000|
|Nature's Path Foods||$610,709|
|The Stillonger Trust||$440,000|
|Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps||$369,883|
|Wehah Farm (Lundberg Family Farms)||$251,000|
|Great Foods of America||$102,000|
|Clif Bar & Co.||$100,000|
|Cropp Cooperative (Organic Valley)||$100,000|
|Michael S. Funk||$50,000|
The arguments against Proposition 37 in the state's official voter guide were submitted by:
- Dr. Bob Goldberg. Goldberg is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
- Jamie Johansson. Johansson is a family farmer in California.
- Betty Jo Toccoli. Toccoli is the president of the California Small Business Association.
- Jonnalee Henderson. Henderson is affiliated with the California Farm Bureau Federation.
- Dr. Henry I. Miller. Miller is a founding director of the Office of Biotechnology of the Food & Drug Administration.
- Tom Hudson. Hudson is the executive director of the California Taxpayer Protection Committee.
Other opponents include:
The arguments in opposition to Proposition 37 presented in the state's official voter guide include:
- "It's a deceptive, deeply flawed food labeling scheme that would add more government bureaucracy and taxpayer costs, create new frivolous lawsuits, and increase food costs by billions--without providing any health or safety benefits."
- "It's full of special interest exemptions."
- "It authorizes shakedown lawsuits."
| Total campaign cash |
as of October 14, 2012
As of October 14, 2012, about $35.6 million has been donated to the "No on 37" campaign effort.
These are the $100,000 and over donors to the "no" campaign as of October 14, 2012:
|E.I. Dupont De Nemours & Co.||$4,900,000|
|BASF Plant Science||$2,000,000|
|Coca-Cola North America||$1,174,400|
|Del Monte Foods||$674,100|
|The J.M. Smucker Company||$388,000|
|Council for Biotechnology Information||$375,000|
|Grocery Manufacturers Association||$375,000|
|Bumble Bee Foods||$368,500|
|Ocean Spray Cranberries||$362,100|
|Pioneer Hi-Bred International||$310,100|
|Dean Foods Company||$253,950|
|Biotechnology Industry Organization||$252,000|
|McCormick & Company||$248,200|
|Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company||$237,664|
|Rich Products Corporation||$225,537|
|Dole Packaged Foods||$171,261|
|Knouse Foods Cooperative||$135,831|
|Mars Food North America||$100,242|
Other food companies who have contributed to the "no" campaign (but with checks of less than $100,000) include Sunny Delight Beverages, McCain Foods, Dole Packaged Foods, Heinz, Idahoan Foods, Richelieu Foods, Land O'Lakes, Morton Salt and Godiva Chocolatier.
"Yes on 37"
- The Bay Area Reporter: "Prohibited in many countries (e.g. France), no one really knows the health risks of genetically engineered food. This is a transparency measure, which will allow the consumer to make an informed decision. It would be the first such measure of its kind in the United States."
- The Marin Independent Journal: "Consumers have a right to know what they are buying and consuming."
- The North County Times: "Proposition 37 is as common-sense a measure as Californians have had a chance to approve in quite some time."
- The San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Prop. 37 doesn't seek regulations or limits in any way. It just mandates that GMO food be labeled — the way it is in at least 50 countries worldwide, including all of the European Union, China, Japan and Russia."
"No on 37"
- The Contra Costa Times: "Proposition 37 purports to be a simple law that requires proper labeling to identify so-called genetically modified food. If that was all it did, we would be for it. Unfortunately, it does much more, and we think voters should send it back to its creators for some modification."
- The Daily Democrat (Woodland, California): "While we support identification of genetically modified food, this measure is so convoluted as to impose excessive costs on our state's farmers and agricultural industries."
- The Fresno Bee: "Under Prop. 37, no food that uses genetically engineered ingredients could be called natural. That seems to make certain sense. But it contains wording that could prohibit 'natural' labels on any food that that has been pressed or milled. That might include grain, which is milled, or olive oil, which is produced by pressing olives. Proponents say that wasn't their intent. But that's no guarantee against lawsuits."
- The Long Beach Press Telegram: 
- The Los Angeles Daily News: "...once you get past the pleasing outside surface of this proposition (more information is good, right?), it reveals a rotten interior that pits the organic food industry against the non-organic food industry, includes special interest exemptions and sets up a system ripe for lawsuit abuse."
- The Los Angeles Times: "Unfortunately, the initiative to require labeling of those ingredients is sloppily written. It contains language that, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, could be construed by the courts to imply that processed foods could not be labeled as 'natural' even if they weren't genetically engineered. Most of the burden for ensuring that foods are properly labeled would fall not on producers but on retailers, which would have to get written statements from their suppliers verifying that there were no bioengineered ingredients — a paperwork mandate that could make it hard for mom-and-pop groceries to stay in business. Enforcement would largely occur through lawsuits brought by members of the public who suspect grocers of selling unlabeled food, a messy and potentially expensive way to bring about compliance."
- The Merced Sun-Star: "The initiative would grant authority over labeling to the California Department of Public Health, which already has plenty of work combating food-borne pathogens. For state government, the cost of the additional duty would be relatively small, but the initiative provides no funding to cover the additional work."
- The Modesto Bee: " This flawed measure would set back the cause of labeling."
- The Orange County Register: "Voters should be concerned that Prop. 37 would likely spawn waves of lawsuits, with the litigation and enforcement costs passed on to grocers and the consumers. The initiative's language invites abuse."
- The Press-Enterprise: "Prop. 37 is the wrong approach to addressing the merits or dangers of genetically engineered food. Whatever its intent, this badly written, logically muddled initiative stands to do more mischief than good."
- The Redding Record Searchlight: "But as written, Proposition 37 would create a fertile new field of litigation. Retailers would be mainly responsible for ensuring the proper labeling of the products they sell, overseen by the state Department of Public Health, but private lawyers and activists would have the power to sue over alleged violations and collect their costs and fees — even if nobody's suffered any damages. More work for creative plaintiff's lawyers and more hassles for businesses? That is not what California needs."
- The Sacramento Bee: "Proposition 37 is a classic example of an initiative that shouldn't be on the ballot. It is an overreach, is ambiguous, and would open the way for countless lawsuits against retailers who sell food that might lack the proper labeling."
- The San Bernardino Sun: "The most concerning aspect of Prop. 37 is its method of 'enforcement.' It allows every member of the public to become an enforcer, dropping lawsuits if they only suspect noncompliance but have no evidence...What a nightmare scenario for grocers small and large who, under the terms of the initiative, would have to keep reams of paperwork certifying that all the food they sell is properly labeled as to which might contain genetically modified organisms or not."
- The San Diego Union-Tribune: "Should genetically modified food be labeled and face more thorough regulation? That is a completely valid question, one that should be the focus of congressional hearings and possible federal legislation. It is not, however, an issue that should be addressed via a weakly crafted state ballot proposition whose leading donor appears to stand to gain from its passage."
- The San Francisco Chronicle: "Prop. 37 is fraught with vague and problematic provisions that could make it costly for consumers and a legal nightmare for those who grow, process or sell food."
- The Santa Cruz Sentinel: "Citizens would be empowered to sue grocers they believe to be selling unlabeled GE foods, without needing to prove any damages. Clearly, this provision would create even more lawsuits. And who would this benefit? Lawyers."
- The Ventura County Star: "Such a law would create mistrust and confusion about the foods that Californians eat."
- The Victorville Daily Press: "Proposition 37 is, at bottom, another means of adding income to those lawyers — and they seem to be legion — who seek remuneration by bringing suit under what would otherwise be frivolous circumstances."
- See also: Polls, 2012 ballot measures
A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll was conducted from September 17-23, 2012.
|Date of Poll||Pollster||In favor||Opposed||Undecided||Number polled|
|September 17-23, 2012||USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times||61%||25%||14%||1,504|
|October 7-9, 2012||SurveyUSA||39%||30%||31%||700|
|October 7-10, 2012||California Business Roundtable||48.3%||40.2%||11.5%||830|
|October 21-28, 2012||California Business Roundtable||39.1%||50.5%||10.5%||2,115|
Jayson L. Lusk and Brandon R. McFadden from Oklahoma State University conducted a survey from September 20-27, 2012. The survey collected responses from 822 likely voters and found 76.8% intend to vote in favor of Proposition 37. The study found that possible increases in food prices slightly diminish support. Additionally, the study measured the effect of advertisements used in media campaigns by supporters and opponents of the proposition and found that the opponent advertisement was more effective in swaying likely voters. 
Path to the ballot
- See also: California signature requirements
- James Wheaton submitted a letter requesting a ballot title for Version #11-0071 on November 9, 2011.
- Wheaton submitted a letter requesting a ballot title for Version #11-0099 on December 20, 2011.
- The ballot title and ballot summary for Version #11-0071 was issued by the Attorney General of California's office on January 5, 2012. The issue date for Version #11-0099 was February 14, 2012.
- 504,760 valid signatures were required for qualification purposes.
- The 150-day circulation deadline for #11-0071 was June 4, 2012, while the 150-day deadline for Version #11-0099 was July 13, 2012.
- Supporters filed about 970,000 signatures in early May on Version #11-0099.
- The measure was certified for the November 6, 2012 ballot on June 11, 2012.
- See also: List of ballot measure lawsuits in 2012
Supporters of Proposition 37 filed a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court on August 9, 2012. The lawsuit was successful. The purpose of the lawsuit was to force the California Secretary of State to revise the state's "impartial analysis" of Proposition 37 that appears in the state's official voter guide. The correction asked for by Proposition 37 supporters, and ordered by the court, amounts to the change of one word. Specifically, the court ordered that the word "some" replace the word "all" in this sentence: "Given the way the measure is written, there is a possibility that these restrictions would be interpreted by the courts to apply to some processed foods regardless of whether they are genetically engineered." (In the actual voter guide, the word some will not appear in underlined bold form.)
- Complete November 6, 2012 official voter guide
- Ballot title, summary and LAO analysis of Proposition 37
- Arguments for and against Proposition 37 in the official state voter guide
- Letter requesting a ballot title for Initiative 11-0099
- Proposition 37, an overview prepared by the League of Women Voters of California
- Proposition 37 on Voter's Edge
- Proposition 37 Cheatsheet from KCET
- Proposition 37 on California Choices (sponsored by Next 10, IGS at UC Berkeley, the UC San Diego Political Science Department, the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford, and the Center for CA Studies at Sac State)
- Proposition 37 at the California Voter Foundation
- "California Right to Know"/Yes on 37 website
- "Yes on 37" on Facebook
- "Yes on 37" on Twitter
- "Yes on 37" campaign finance disclosures
- Organic Consumer's Association "Yes on 37" campaign finance disclosures
- "Yes on 37 Lake County" campaign finance disclosures
- "No on Prop 37" website
- "No on Prop 37" on Facebook
- "No on Prop 37" on Twitter
- "No on Prop 37" campaign finance disclosures
- Why PepsiCo Is Fighting GMO Labeling in California
- The Mercenary Intent Behind Proposition 37's GM Food Labeling
- Is Team Organic Outspending Team Big Ag in the GMO Labeling Fight?
- Big-food company bucks make Prop. 37 unpredictable
- Mercury News, "Food labeling, 3-strikes join crowded Nov. ballot", June 11, 2012
- Wall Street Journal, "Foes of Genetically Modified Foods Seek Vote on Labeling in California", May 2, 2012
- Digital Journal, "Californians set to vote on labeling of genetically modified food", May 3, 2012
- Walnut Patch, "Democratic Party Picks State Ballot Measures to Support", July 30, 2012
- Arguments in favor of Proposition 37 submitted to the official voter guide
- Sacramento Bee, "Dan Morain: Label this one 'Do Not Touch'", February 19, 2012
- Arguments against Proposition 37 in the California Official Voter Guide
- Walnut Creek Patch, "California Republicans Oppose Proposed Tax Measures", August 12, 2012
- Twin Cities (from the Los Angeles Times), "Campaign to defeat California GMO label law raises $12M", August 14, 2012
- Bay Area Reporter, "Editorial: State ballot measures", September 20, 2012
- Marin Independent Journal, "Editorial: IJ's endorsements for state Propositions 34-37", October 12, 2012
- North County Times, "Yes on 37", August 30, 2012
- San Francisco Bay Guardian, "Endorsements 2012: State ballot measures", October 3, 2012
- Contra Costa Times, "Summary of our endorsements on state propositions", September 22, 2012
- Daily Democrat, "Democrat endorsements: Propositions", October 14, 2012
- Fresno Bee, "Prop. 37 is wrong approach to food labeling", October 1, 2012
- Long Beach Press Telegram, "Endorsement: No on Prop. 37 -- More information is good but not when it comes with a heavy legal burden on small business", October 9, 2012
- Los Angeles Daily News, "Endorsement: No on Prop. 37 -- More information is good but not when it comes with a heavy legal burden on small business", September 27, 2012
- Los Angeles Times, "No on Proposition 37", October 4, 2012
- Merced Sun-Star, "Our View: Prop. 37 should be rejected", September 25, 2012
- [http://www.modbee.com/2012/09/23/2384952/no-on-proposition-37.html Modesto Bee, "No on Proposition 37", September 23, 2012]
- Orange County Register, "Editorial: No on Prop. 37 (food labeling)", September 28, 2012
- Press-Enterprise, "No on 37", October 1, 2012
- Redding Record Searchlight, "Editorial: GMO labeling: More lawsuits, not more safety", September 22, 2012
- Sacramento Bee, "Endorsements: Prop. 37 is a sour plan for food labeling", September 16, 2012
- San Bernardino Sun, "No on Prop. 37: More information is good, but rampant litigation isn't", October 1, 2012
- San Diego Union-Tribune, "Prop. 37 no way to address an important issue", September 28, 2012
- San Francisco Chronicle, "Prop. 37 is not answer on food labeling", September 20, 2012
- San Jose Mercury News, "Summary of our endorsements on state propositions", September 22, 2012
- Santa Cruz Sentinel, "Editorial: No on 37: Flawed measure could prove costly and add to litigation burden", October 6, 2012
- Ventura County Star, "Editorial: Food labeling law leaves a bad taste; No on Prop. 37", September 13, 2012
- Victorville Daily Press, "Proposition 37 is unnecessary", October 4, 2012
- Los Angeles Times, "Poll finds Prop. 37 is likely to pass", September 27, 2012
- Voter’s Intentions on Proposition 37 Requiring Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods in California, Jayson L. Lusk and Brandon R. McFadden, October 1, 2011
- FireDogLake Elections, "CA: Genetically Modified Food Labeling Initiative Likely to Make the Ballot", May 2, 2012
- In the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Sacramento, "James Russell Wheaton v. Debra Bowen", order issued August 10, 2012