Ballot Initiative on Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Defeated in California

by McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP
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[author: Donald Zuhn]

On Tuesday, while California voters were helping President Obama secure a second term in thCalifornia Flage White House, picking the President over Republican challenger Mitt Romney by a 59.1% to 38.6% margin, they were also responsible for defeating a ballot initiative, Proposition 37, that would have required raw or processed food to be labeled if such food was made from plants or animals having genetic material changed in specified ways.  The initiative measure, entitled "The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act," would have amended the California Health and Safety Code such that "any food offered for retail sale in California [would be considered to be] misbranded if it is or may have been entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering and that fact is not disclosed."  The margin of defeat for Proposition 37 was somewhat narrower than that in the Presidential race, with voters rejecting the ballot initiative 53.7% to 46.3%.

According to Proposition 37, "genetically engineered" food was defined as:

[A]ny food that is produced from an organism or organisms in which the genetic material has been changed through the application of:
    (A) In vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques and the direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or
    (B) Fusion of cells, including protoplast fusion, or hybridization techniques that overcome natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers, where the donor cells/protoplasts do not fall within the same taxonomic family, in a way that does not occur by natural multiplication or natural recombination.

Right to KnowUnder the Act, raw agricultural food that was genetically engineered would have to be labeled as "Genetically Engineered," and processed food ("any food produced from a raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to processing such as canning, smoking, pressing, cooking, freezing, dehydration, fermentation, or milling") would have to be labeled as "Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering."

At the California Secretary of State website, arguments in favor of and against the ballot initiative were presented.  In addition, voters were directed by the website to the groups California Right to Know (in favor of the initiative) and NO on 37 (against the initiative) for additional information.

No on 37Interestingly, the Ballotpedia webpage for Proposition 37 listed the California Democratic Party and the Green Party of California as supporters of the failed ballot initiative and the California Republican Party as being opposed to the initiative.  Donors to the "No on 37" campaign included Monsanto, E.I. Dupont De Nemours & Co., DOW Agrisciences, Bayer Cropscience, BASF Plant Science, Syngenta Corporation, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

According to a report in the San Jose Mercury News, proponents of the initiative, including California Right to Know, will now turn their efforts towards getting similar initiatives on the ballot in Washington and Oregon.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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