Food Fight: A Guide to Prop. 37

Food Fight: A Guide to Prop. 37

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Michelle Ciccarelli Lerach

The owner of a La Jolla cupcake shop that caters to summer tourists might seem an unlikely hero in the effort to pass Proposition 37, a state measure on the November ballot that would require labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients.

After all, Michelle Ciccarelli Lerach is a frosting pusher, albeit an organic frosting pusher. But she’s also a philanthropist and sustainable food activist who has donated time and money ($25,000) to Prop. 37, which includes trying to combat what she says are razzle-dazzle, confuse-the-consumer messages from the opposing side.

“It’s like a scene out of [the musical] ‘Chicago,’” she said. “The No on 37 campaign throws up a lot of smoke screens, trying to confuse consumers. To me it’s unthinkable that we don’t have the fundamental right to know what’s in the food we buy. And the reason we don’t have it is that corporations have control over our food supply.”

Prop. 37 would require labeling on the front or back of packaged foods that says, “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.” In the case of a whole food — for example, genetically modified sweet corn — a sign on the retail shelf or bin would say, “Genetically Engineered.”

Another provision addresses the term “natural.” If passed, products that contain ingredients that have been genetically modified will no longer be able to use terms like “natural” or “naturally grown” in their marketing or labeling. Exemptions to the measure include items like meat, alcohol, dairy, eggs or food prepared in restaurants. Organic food is also exempt because federal standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program do not allow genetically modified crops to carry the organic label. Food companies would have until July 2014 to comply with the new labeling requirements.

Who Opposes Prop. 37?

The No on 37 campaign, it turns out, is a formidable adversary. It has surpassed $34 million in funding, raking in donations from large corporations that would be directly impacted by the proposition. Those donations have helped fund TV and radio ads to boost their effort.

Corporations that have made significant donations to the No on 37 campaign include Monsanto ($7.1 million), DuPont ($4.9 million), Dow AgroSciences ($2 million) and Bayer CropScience ($2 million). They make which make genetically modified seeds for commodity crops like corn, soybean, canola and sugar beets; as well as herbicides like glyphosate, used in conjunction with those crops.

The food industry, which uses genetically modified ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup and canola oil, in thousands of everyday products, has also poured in money. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kellogg (parent company of La Jolla-based natural-brand Kashi cereals), ConAgra, General Mills and San Diego-based Bumble Bee Foods have all donated to the No on 37 effort.

At the crux of the No on 37 argument is cost. Opponents say Prop. 37 will cost a whopping $1.2 billion because of expensive regulations, impacting everyone from food processors to farmers.

“Prop. 37 is not a simple labeling measure,” said Kathy Fairbanks, a spokesperson for No on 37. “It’s a complicated measure that will increase grocery bills by up to $400 a year per California family. It will increase state bureaucracy and taxpayer costs by millions. It creates a brand new category of shakedown lawsuits against grocers and farmers. And it includes special interest exemptions that give special loopholes to two-thirds of the foods we eat, foods that can contain GE ingredients.”

Who Supports Prop. 37?

The California Right To Know campaign (also known as Yes on 37), has been far more reliant on small donors, paired with more substantial funding from organic brands like California rice grower Lundberg Family Farms, Clif Bar, Amy’s, Earthbound Farm, Applegate, Organic Valley, Escondido-based Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Ocean Beach People’s Organic Food Market and more. The campaign has brought in just more than $4 million.

Stacy Malkan, spokesperson for the Yes on 37 campaign, said despite their smaller budget, they have been running radio ads to counter attacks from the No on 37 campaign, and will be launching television ads soon.

“Prop. 37 is a simple labeling law that gives consumers the right to know what’s in our food, period,” said Malkan. “It doesn’t cost companies anything to tell us what’s in their products. It doesn’t add one bit of bureaucracy and there’s no money in it for lawyers. The pesticide companies that are funding the opposition are desperate to confuse voters and have unleashed a war of deception to do so.”

Prop. 37 supporters also scoff at the notion that its requirements are overly burdensome.

Straus Family Creamery recently changed its labels to make the point. Its milk and yogurt products just now hitting shelves will come with pro-Prop. 37 messaging on the package.

“The opposition to Prop. 37 likes to point out that labeling is too costly for manufacturers and consumers,” said Albert Straus, president of Straus Family Creamery in a statement, “but we can show that we only spend a fraction of a cent per bottle to change the entire information on the back side of our milk bottles. We change our packaging several times a year, which is a planned expense. It has absolutely no effect on our bottom line or on the price to the consumer.”

Who Are the San Diego Players?

San Diego plays a unique role in the current fight. The county is home to more than 300 organic farms. Of the more than $4 million raised by the Yes on 37 campaign, close to $400,000 came from San Diego County, including donations from Lerach, People’s Market and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps.

On the No on 37 side, San Diego-based Bumble Bee Foods chipped in $368,500.

Fairbanks says her campaign is looking at the state as a whole, and not focusing specifically on regions like San Diego. But the Yes on 37 campaign says it is keeping a close eye on San Diego.

“San Diego is a very important region to get the word out,” says Malkan. “It’s not as strong in support [of Prop. 37], yet some of the biggest financial support is coming from health conscious people in San Diego that believe we have the right to know what’s in our food.”

Beyond California

Prop. 37 may be a California initiative, but it has the nation’s food industry on edge. It’s expected to have national implications should it pass in November, as author Michael Pollan pointed out in a recent New York Times piece:

California’s Proposition 37, which would require that genetically modified (G.M.) foods carry a label, has the potential to do just that — to change the politics of food not just in California but nationally too. Now, there is much that’s wrong with California’s notorious initiative process: it is an awkward, usually sloppy way to make law. Yet for better or worse, it has served as a last- or first-ditch way for issues that politicians aren’t yet ready to touch — whether the tax rebellion of the 1970s (Prop 13) or medical marijuana in the 1990s (Prop 215) — to win a hearing and a vote and then go on to change the political conversation across the country.

Clare Leschin-Hoar is a freelance writer who covers seafood, sustainability and food politics. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, The Wall Street Journal, Eating Well, TakePart.com and many more. You can contact her directly at clare@leschin-hoar.com. Find her on Twitter at @c_leschin.

Voice of San Diego is a nonprofit that depends on you, our readers. Please donate to keep the service strong. Click here to find out more about our supporters and how we operate independently.


  • 6
    Followers

Show comments
Before you comment, read these simple guidelines on what is not allowed.

58 comments
Jerry Hall
Jerry Hall subscriber

I think the simple answer is that I want to know what is in the 'food' I am eating. It's fair, I buy a box of something and it has a list of contents. We all know that information alone does not cost even a 100th/penny a package (ink is not made of gold last I checked). Nor does the information make the consumer's decision for them. The data, read by an ideally knowledgeable person, helps the person make the decision. My reaction? If companies don't want to publish the information for us why don't we publish the information for them? Let's get off this hippie-victim mentality and use our noggins (and the internet?) to create some real change.

DataJuncture
DataJuncture

I think the simple answer is that I want to know what is in the 'food' I am eating. It's fair, I buy a box of something and it has a list of contents. We all know that information alone does not cost even a 100th/penny a package (ink is not made of gold last I checked). Nor does the information make the consumer's decision for them. The data, read by an ideally knowledgeable person, helps the person make the decision. My reaction? If companies don't want to publish the information for us why don't we publish the information for them? Let's get off this hippie-victim mentality and use our noggins (and the internet?) to create some real change.

Craig Nelson
Craig Nelson subscribermember

If you really believe that (doubtfull) then here is a way for you to make a forutne. Simply label foods that are NON-GE as such - if it really doesn't cost anything to do that then your food will be priced the same and all the tree huggers will of course buy it instead of the rest of the food. You should have huge market share , make a fortune and not impose your will on the the rest of us.

Craig Nelson
Craig Nelson

If you really believe that (doubtfull) then here is a way for you to make a forutne. Simply label foods that are NON-GE as such - if it really doesn't cost anything to do that then your food will be priced the same and all the tree huggers will of course buy it instead of the rest of the food. You should have huge market share , make a fortune and not impose your will on the the rest of us.

William Lekas
William Lekas subscriber

I do believe that if Monsanto, Dow and whoever else is on the No Bandwagon really believe that there are no potential negative consequences to genetic modification, they would not be so quick to want to oppose labeling. I personally am ambivalent but at the same time I do believe that we need to know what we are eating so we can make a choice . . .

wlekas
wlekas

I do believe that if Monsanto, Dow and whoever else is on the No Bandwagon really believe that there are no potential negative consequences to genetic modification, they would not be so quick to want to oppose labeling. I personally am ambivalent but at the same time I do believe that we need to know what we are eating so we can make a choice . . .

Cindy Fuchser
Cindy Fuchser subscriber

Food cost will not go up...that is just propaganda paid for by the makers of GE seeds! How can that be...we already have labels. Do you really think 4 little words added to the already very wordy label will make a difference? Of course not! Those adds that the opposition is spending a pretty penny on ($35,000,000 -$45,000,000) is not because they are concerned about your wallet!

Cindy Fuchser
Cindy Fuchser

Food cost will not go up...that is just propaganda paid for by the makers of GE seeds! How can that be...we already have labels. Do you really think 4 little words added to the already very wordy label will make a difference? Of course not! Those adds that the opposition is spending a pretty penny on ($35,000,000 -$45,000,000) is not because they are concerned about your wallet!

Cindy Fuchser
Cindy Fuchser subscriber

I cant help but believe that you and your long winded plea are part of the $35,000,000 propaganda being sent to us by air, land and sea. Sorry Charlie...you are caught!

Cindy Fuchser
Cindy Fuchser

I cant help but believe that you and your long winded plea are part of the $35,000,000 propaganda being sent to us by air, land and sea. Sorry Charlie...you are caught!

Cindy Fuchser
Cindy Fuchser subscriber

Really-you think its O.K. for Huge corporations to finance their war against prop 37 spending millions $ every single day to prevent you from knowing whats in your food but those of us in support of prop 37 should not pool our money together to support a proposition which we feel strongly about?

Cindy Fuchser
Cindy Fuchser

Really-you think its O.K. for Huge corporations to finance their war against prop 37 spending millions $ every single day to prevent you from knowing whats in your food but those of us in support of prop 37 should not pool our money together to support a proposition which we feel strongly about?

Cindy Fuchser
Cindy Fuchser subscriber

It is very simple...Alcohol is not included because alcohol is exempt from food ingredients laws, food from restaurants is exempt because it too is exempt from ingredients lists, animal products are exempt because they are not grown from genetically engineered seeds! There you have it...other than that it is an across the board labeling requirement.

Cindy Fuchser
Cindy Fuchser

It is very simple...Alcohol is not included because alcohol is exempt from food ingredients laws, food from restaurants is exempt because it too is exempt from ingredients lists, animal products are exempt because they are not grown from genetically engineered seeds! There you have it...other than that it is an across the board labeling requirement.

Cindy Fuchser
Cindy Fuchser subscriber

We may become blind to them OR we may become educated on what GMO's are. We are free to do as we please but please don't assume we are all the same! And please don't assume none of us care about what we put into our mouths because obviously some of us do!

Cindy Fuchser
Cindy Fuchser

We may become blind to them OR we may become educated on what GMO's are. We are free to do as we please but please don't assume we are all the same! And please don't assume none of us care about what we put into our mouths because obviously some of us do!

Janet Shelton
Janet Shelton subscriber

Michael Hansen, a biotechnology expert for Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, and other consumer advocates are pushing for regulatory reforms in the United States that would require agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct long-term safety studies on genetically engineered crops instead of simply relying on data voluntarily submitted from the industry, as US regulators have for years.

myearth
myearth

Michael Hansen, a biotechnology expert for Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, and other consumer advocates are pushing for regulatory reforms in the United States that would require agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct long-term safety studies on genetically engineered crops instead of simply relying on data voluntarily submitted from the industry, as US regulators have for years.

sean mosler
sean mosler subscriber

Hopefully you already know to shop at stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes that claim not to use GM ingredients and avoid major brand packaged foods that we already know contain GM ingredients.

Sean M
Sean M

Hopefully you already know to shop at stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes that claim not to use GM ingredients and avoid major brand packaged foods that we already know contain GM ingredients.

Craig Nelson
Craig Nelson subscribermember

If you are concerned about this go buy at the farmers market but don't make the rest of us bear the cost of your silly crusade.

Craig Nelson
Craig Nelson

If you are concerned about this go buy at the farmers market but don't make the rest of us bear the cost of your silly crusade.

James Snook
James Snook subscriber

On the flip side, there have been no studies overseen by the FDA demonstrating the safety of many GMOs. So basically your contention that there is no scientific evidence seems backwards in this case.

jsnook
jsnook

On the flip side, there have been no studies overseen by the FDA demonstrating the safety of many GMOs. So basically your contention that there is no scientific evidence seems backwards in this case.

Erik Marquis
Erik Marquis subscriber

There are many more conflicts of interest involving politicians, lobbyists, and Monsanto. When in doubt, follow the money.

MisanthropicContrarian
MisanthropicContrarian

There are many more conflicts of interest involving politicians, lobbyists, and Monsanto. When in doubt, follow the money.

Fiona Affarano
Fiona Affarano subscriber

Of COURSE Yes on Prop 37! What’s not to like? I don’t want to eat genetically modified foods. They are bad for my health and bad for the environment. Give me the Right to choose. End of story.

bflower
bflower

Of COURSE Yes on Prop 37! What’s not to like? I don’t want to eat genetically modified foods. They are bad for my health and bad for the environment. Give me the Right to choose. End of story.

Janet Shelton
Janet Shelton subscriber

roducts made in China or wherever. Why not food?

myearth
myearth

roducts made in China or wherever. Why not food?

Joy Houston
Joy Houston subscriber

With all the countries around the world that demand choice for their people in the matter of GMOs in their foods (and in some cases protect them from GMO foods altogether), what makes the opposition think they have any ground to stand on? If our political system has boiled down to a battle of bucks and the one who holds the most money wins- I guess we should throw in the towel. That is not what I believe. 91% of Americans want the right to know which foods contain GMOs. Our wants as the body and soul of this nation cannot be painted over with funds from the likes of Monsanto and Dow- the same entities that gave us DDT and Agent Orange, all the while smiling and promising consumers total safety. I will vote yes on Prop 37.

Chef Joy Houston
Chef Joy Houston

With all the countries around the world that demand choice for their people in the matter of GMOs in their foods (and in some cases protect them from GMO foods altogether), what makes the opposition think they have any ground to stand on? If our political system has boiled down to a battle of bucks and the one who holds the most money wins- I guess we should throw in the towel. That is not what I believe. 91% of Americans want the right to know which foods contain GMOs. Our wants as the body and soul of this nation cannot be painted over with funds from the likes of Monsanto and Dow- the same entities that gave us DDT and Agent Orange, all the while smiling and promising consumers total safety. I will vote yes on Prop 37.

Joy Houston
Joy Houston subscriber

That "little cupcake hobby" as you so condescendingly put it, is a sustainable pioneer in the San Diego community where one can find farm to table cooking classes. Maybe your research could go a little deeper.

Chef Joy Houston
Chef Joy Houston

That "little cupcake hobby" as you so condescendingly put it, is a sustainable pioneer in the San Diego community where one can find farm to table cooking classes. Maybe your research could go a little deeper.

Omar Passons
Omar Passons subscribermember

ot the same, IMO, as voting for something that has a ton of downside and doesn't even actually alleviate any of the underlying concerns.

omarpassons
omarpassons

ot the same, IMO, as voting for something that has a ton of downside and doesn't even actually alleviate any of the underlying concerns.

Bill Toone
Bill Toone subscriber

One of the driving forces behind developing GMO foods is to create strains that are resistant to pesticides and herbicides This allows indiscriminate spraying with effects on our environment as well as the food I will put in my mouth. I want to know about foods when they have coated them indiscriminately with toxins before I put them on my plate. If the producers can afford to label their food, they can afford to reveal if it is from a GMO crop.

Weshouldknow
Weshouldknow

One of the driving forces behind developing GMO foods is to create strains that are resistant to pesticides and herbicides This allows indiscriminate spraying with effects on our environment as well as the food I will put in my mouth. I want to know about foods when they have coated them indiscriminately with toxins before I put them on my plate. If the producers can afford to label their food, they can afford to reveal if it is from a GMO crop.

jason wilson
jason wilson subscriber

a fine to the producer of the food item itself (paid to the state not the lawyers). I'm not a lawyer so i'm curious what other legal ramifications are actually possible.. if the producer of the agricultural product, and the company that makes a packaged product directly from it are the only ones held liable, how are grocers and mom and pop places at risk for lawsuit?

thoughtful food
thoughtful food

a fine to the producer of the food item itself (paid to the state not the lawyers). I'm not a lawyer so i'm curious what other legal ramifications are actually possible.. if the producer of the agricultural product, and the company that makes a packaged product directly from it are the only ones held liable, how are grocers and mom and pop places at risk for lawsuit?

James Snook
James Snook subscriber

The country of origin labeling of seafood that phased in over the past few years was a good thing, and I don't see how GMO labeling is any different. My company's products aren't sold on grocery shelves but they do have labels and label changes are easy and happen all the time. Anyone who believes it's a huge expense for a manufacturer to change labels over a period of one and a half years to add a sentence about GMOs is drinking too much Monsanto Kool-Aid. I can't even find my kid's favorite applesauce or whatever because they change the labels so often....

jsnook
jsnook

The country of origin labeling of seafood that phased in over the past few years was a good thing, and I don't see how GMO labeling is any different. My company's products aren't sold on grocery shelves but they do have labels and label changes are easy and happen all the time. Anyone who believes it's a huge expense for a manufacturer to change labels over a period of one and a half years to add a sentence about GMOs is drinking too much Monsanto Kool-Aid. I can't even find my kid's favorite applesauce or whatever because they change the labels so often....

James Snook
James Snook subscriber

Of course, all of this would assume you actually want to see the evidence you are asking for, as opposed to say just remaining blissfully unaware....

jsnook
jsnook

Of course, all of this would assume you actually want to see the evidence you are asking for, as opposed to say just remaining blissfully unaware....

Barb Dunsmore
Barb Dunsmore subscriber

Yes on 37 is about our basic RIGHT TO KNOW what is in our food, which every human being on the planet has a right to! Why would you not want to know? You enjoy being a guinea pig?

bdunz
bdunz

Yes on 37 is about our basic RIGHT TO KNOW what is in our food, which every human being on the planet has a right to! Why would you not want to know? You enjoy being a guinea pig?