retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times this morning reports that "advocates for the labeling of genetically modified food vowed to carry their fight to other states and to the federal government after suffering a defeat in California on Tuesday ... The backers of the measure, known as Proposition 37, said on Wednesday that they were encouraged it had garnered 4.3 million votes, even though they were outspent about five-to-one by opponents. They are now gathering signatures to place a similar measure on the ballot in Washington State next year." Other states said to be likely targets for pro-labeling initiatives are Oregon, Vermont and Connecticut.

The opposition has maintained that Prop. 37 was badly written, full of loopholes, put too much responsibility on retailers and would have been a goldmine for trial lawyers. Proponents have said that they believe people have a right to know what is in the food they eat.

According to the story, "The election in California was closely watched because it had national implications. It could have led to a reduction in the use of genetically modified crops, which account for more than 80 percent of the corn, soybeans and sugar beets grown in the United States. That is because food companies, fearing that some consumers would shun products labeled genetically engineered, would instead reformulate their products to avoid such ingredients.

"With so much at stake, food and biotechnology companies amassed $46 million to defeat the measure, according to MapLight, an organization that tracks campaign contributions. Monsanto, the largest supplier of genetically engineered seeds, contributed $8.1 million. Kraft Foods, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola each contributed at least $1.7 million. The backers of Proposition 37 raised only $9.2 million, mainly from the organic and natural foods business."

The Los Angeles Times reports that Proposition 37 "led in most coastal counties, including Los Angeles County, but lost big in the agricultural strongholds of the Central Valley."

The Grocery Manufacturers Association released the following statement in response to the defeat of Proposition 37:

“GMA and its member companies are pleased that California voters have rejected Proposition 37.  Proposition 37 was a deeply flawed measure that would have resulted in higher food costs, frivolous lawsuits, and increased state bureaucracies.  This is a big win for California consumers, taxpayers, businesses and farmers.  Foods and beverages that contain genetically engineered ingredients have been exhaustively studied and all of the leading scientific and regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US Department of Agriculture, the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, have concluded that these products are safe and are not materially different than their traditional counterparts.”

And Ron Fong, president/CEO of the California Grocers Association, offered the following comment:

"We are very pleased with the outcome of Proposition 37 and thank California voters for seeing through this deceptive measure.  California grocers agree that consumers should have access to information, but the form of that information is critically important.

"Any food labeling requirements should be consistently applied regardless of where food is purchased, should meet national standards, and should come in a form that helps achieve compliance not enrich trial lawyers at the expense of higher food costs.  Proposition 37 simply failed to meet that standard.  That being said, CGA has already begun discussions with our diverse membership to identify solutions we can bring to the table to help consumers better access information they may want."
KC's View:
My position on this is clear. GMO labeling is going to happen, and I think the food industry is better served by an approach that embraces the challenge rather than fights it. The approach should be national, not regional. It should be rooted in education and technology solutions, not scare tactics. Trial lawyers should not be the prime beneficiary, and manufacturers should have the bulk of the responsibility for proper information.

To take a different approach is to be on the wrong side of history.