Proposition 37: A Deceptive Measure That Could Be Applied to Foods Produced by Conventional Methods

September 1, 2012 - 7 minutes read

A California initiative (Proposition 37) which would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods, has qualified for the November 6, 2012 General Election ballot in California. The Attorney Generals’ official title and summary of the initiative (Proposition 37) is as follows:


‘GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOODS. MANDATORY LABELING. INITIATIVE STATUTE. 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…’1


If passed, the law would take effect July, 2014. Adoption of the law would require the relabeling of tens of thousands of common grocery products if they contain any genetically engineered ingredients.2 Raw foods (such as fruits and vegetables) produced entirely or in part through genetic engineering would have to be labeled with the words “Genetically Engineered” on the front package or label. If the raw food does not have a label, the words “Genetically Engineered” must appear on the shelf or bin where the item is displayed for sale. Labels for processed foods produced using genetic engineering must contain the words “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering”.3 Manufacturers and stores would have 18 months to change labels or reformulate. Products such as alcohol, organic foods, restaurant food and animal products that were not directly produced through genetic engineering would be exempt.3 Proposition 37 contains a “bounty hunter lawsuit” provision that would allow anyone to sue farmers, food producers or grocers without needing to demonstrate that any specific damage occurred as a result of an alleged violation.3,4


Opponents of the initiative have opined that the proposal’s language could ban even frozen fruits and vegetables form being labeled “natural”, no matter how they are grown. Proposition 37 supporters insist that the initiative is clearly intended to cover genetically engineered foods only.5 The State of California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office has stated that given the way the measure is written, “there is a possibility that these restrictions would be interpreted by the courts to apply to all processed foods regardless of whether they are genetically engineered”.3  The wording of the initiative could prohibit using the word “natural” in conjunction with any products that have undergone canning, smoking, pressing, cooking, freezing, dehydration, fermentation or milling, even if they do not contain genetically engineered ingredients.2 In a blow to the “Yes on Prop 37” campaign, the Sacramento Superior Court recently rejected arguments made by “Yes on Prop 37” proponents seeking to strike language from the measure that could restrict labeling of processed foods that do not contain genetically engineered ingredients. Consequently, final ballot materials are permitted to include reference that Proposition 37 could be interpreted by the courts as forbidding processed foods without genetically engineered ingredients from using “natural” in their labeling.2 Opponents of Proposition 37 hope that this information will sway voters from voting “Yes” on the measure, which, according to recent polls is favored by a 3-1 ratio.6


Proposition 37 is opposed by a broad coalition of family farmers, scientists, doctors, business, labor, taxpayers and consumers, as it is seen as 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.7 A new economic study shows that Proposition 37 would increase the cost of a typical family’s grocery bill by an average of $350-$400 per year.8 The American Medical Association (AMA) has issued a policy statement that declares “There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods, as a class….”.9 Thus far, scientific evidence has overwhelmingly shown that foods with genetically engineered ingredients are as safe as their conventional counterparts. There is no valid scientific rationale for voting “Yes” on Proposition 37, and its passage will produce undue labeling restrictions on a variety of different products, including processed foods. Passage of the measure will provide no real benefits to Californians, other than those involved in its enforcement.



  1. Bowen, D. California Secretary of State News Release, June 11, 2012. Site visited August 28, 2012.
  2. Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). Court rejects ‘Yes on 37’ lawsuit on ‘natural’ labeling. The Report, August 24, 2012.
  3. State of California Legislative Analyst’s Office (2012). Proposition 37. Genetically engineered foods. Mandatory labeling. Initiative statute. Site visited August 28, 2012.
  4. No On 37 (2012). Proposition 37 would hurt California grocers and retailers. Site visited September 11, 2012.
  5. Hoppin, H. (2012). Would state GMO measure block ‘natural’ label? Santa Cruz Sentinel August 8, 2012. Site visited August 28, 2012.
  6. Finz, S. (2012). Biotech food measure Proposition 37 on ballot. San Francisco Chronicle. August 15, 2012. Site visited August 28, 2012.
  7. Western Farm Press (2012). Court strikes blow to Yes on 37 campaign. Site visited August 28, 2012.
  8. No On 37 (2012). New Economic Study: Prop. 37 would increase grocery bills for typical California family by hundreds of dollars per year. Site visited August 30, 2012.
  9. American Medical Association (2012). Preliminary report issued by the House of Delegates (A-12), Policy H-480.958. Site visited August 30, 2012.