Analysis by the Legislative Analyst of Proposition 37, the “California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act.”

English: Adoption of Genetically Engineered Cr...

Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S. HT = herbicide tolerance. BT = insect resistance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This the text of the analysis done by the Legislative Analyst on the proposed Proposition 37, the “California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act.” (PDF file here)

Genetically Engineered Foods. Mandatory Labeling. Initiative Statute.


Genetically Engineered (GE) Foods. Genetic engineering is the process of changing the genetic material of a living organism to produce some desired change in that organisms characteristics. This process is often used to develop new plant and animal varieties that are later used as sources of foods, referred to as GE foods. For example, genetic engineering is often used to improve a plants resistance to pests or to allow a plan to withstand the use of pesticides. Some of the most common GE crops include varieties of corn and soybeans. In 2011, 88 percent of all corn and 94 percent of all soybeans produced in the US were grown from GE seats. Other common GE crops include alfalfa, canola, cotton, papaya, sugar beets, and zucchini. In addition, GE crops are used to make food ingredients (such as high fructose corn syrup) that are often included in processed foods (meaning foods that are not raw agricultural crops). According to some estimates, 40 to 70 percent of food products sold in grocery stores in California contain some GE ingredients.

Federal Regulation. Federal law does not specifically require the regulation of GE foods. However, the U.S Department of Agriculture currently places some restrictions on the use of GE crops that are shown to cause harm to other plants. In addition, the U.S. Food and drug administration is responsible for ensuring that most foods (regardless of whether they are genetically engineered) and food additives are safe and properly labeled.

State Regulation. Who Under existing law, California agencies are not specifically required to regulate GE foods. However the Department of Public Health (DPH) is responsible for regulating the safety and labeling of most foods.


This measure makes several changes to state law to explicitly require the regulation of GE foods. Specifically, it (1) requires that most GE foods sold be properly labeled, (2) requires DPH to regulate the labeling of such foods, and (3) allows individuals to sue food manufacturers who violate the measure’s labeling provisions.

Labeling of Foods. This measure requires that GE foods sold at retail in the state be clearly labeled as genetically engineered. Specifically, the measure requires that raw foods (such as fruits and vegetables) that produced entirely or in part through genetic engineering be labeled with the words “Genetically Engineered”on the front package or label. If the item is not separately packaged or does not have a label, these words must appear on the shelf or been where the item is displayed for sale. The measure also requires the processed foods produced entirely or in part through genetic engineering be labeled with the words “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “Maybe Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.”

Retailers (such as grocery stores) would be primarily responsible for complying with the measure by ensuring that their food products are correctly labeled. Products that are labeled as GE would be in compliance. For each product that is not labeled as GE, a retailer generally must be able to document why that product is exempt from labeling. There are two main ways in which a retailer could document that such a product is exempt: (1) by obtaining a sworn statement from the provider of the product (such as a wholesaler) indicating that the product has not been intentionally or knowingly genetically engineered or (2) by receiving independent certification that the product does not contain GE ingredients. Other entities throughout the food supply chain (such as farmers and food manufacturers) may also be responsible for maintaining these records. The measure also excludes certain food products from the above labeling requirements. For example, alcoholic beverages, organic foods, and restaurant food and other prepared foods intended to be eaten immediately would not have to be labeled. Animal products—such as beef or chicken—that were not directly produced through genetic engineering would also be exempted regardless of whether the animal had been fed GE crops.

In addition, the measure prohibits the use of terms such as “natural,” “naturally made,” “naturally grown,” and “all natural” in the labeling and advertising of GE foods. Given the way the measure is written, there is a possibility that these restrictions would be interpreted by the courts to apply to all some processed foods regardless of whether they are genetically engineered. [note: the change of the text from all to some was ordered by Judge Michael Kenny in August ]

State regulation. The labeling requirements for GE foods under this measure would be regulated by DPH as part of its existing responsibility to regulate the safety and labeling of foods. The measure allows the department to adopt regulations that it determines are necessary to carry out the measure. For example, DPH would need to develop regulations that describe the sampling procedures for determining whether foods contain GE ingredients.

Litigation to enforce the measure. Violations of the measure could be prosecuted by the state, local, or private parties. It allows the court to award these parties all reasonable costs incurred in investigating and prosecuting the action. In addition, the measure specifies that consumers could sue for violations of the measures requirements under the state Consumer Legal Remedies Act, which allows consumers to sue without needing to demonstrate any specific damage occurred as a result of the alleged violation.

Fiscal Effects

Increase in State Administrative Costs. This measure would result in additional state costs for DPH to regulate the labeling of GE foods, such as reviewing documents and performing periodic inspections to determine whether the foods are actually being sold with the correct labels. Depending on how and the extent to which the department chooses to implement these regulations (such as how often it chose to inspect grocery stores), these costs could range from a few hundred thousand dollars to over $1 million annually. [note: emphasis in the original text]

Potential increase in Costs Associated with Litigation. As described above, this measure allows individuals to sue for violations of the labeling requirements. As this would increase the number of cases filed in state courts, the state and counties would incorporate additional costs to process and hear the additional cases. The extent of these costs would depend on the number of cases filed, the number of cases prosecuted by state and local governments, and how they are decided by the courts. Some of the increased course costs would be supported by the court filing fees that the parties involved in each case would be required to pay under existing law. In the context of overall court spending, these costs are not likely to be significant in the longer run.

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Genetically engineering microbes to work for us

Interesting video from the Open University.

Genetically engineered (GE) E. coli bacteria produce much of today’s insulin supply. By using GE, we are turning microbes into “tiny factories” that happily churn out what they get re-programmed to do.

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The Straight Poop on GMO Labeling

During June, two items hit the news involving unsavory (to some) food options.

The first was a letter to the Record-Bee from a local organic grower taking me to task for my column, “Something Fishy This Way Comes.” The grower accused me of being against “choice.” She contended, if genetically modified (GM) food is not labeled, how can people choose not to eat it?

The second was a story about Japanese scientists developing a technique to make food from poop. You can imagine that a number of news outlets, including Fox News, were all over this story like stink on…well…you know what. According to the reports, human excrement is supposedly packed with protein and carbohydrates. All the Japanese scientists need do is combine poop with a “reaction enhancer,” then put it in a “magical machine…and artificial steak comes out the other end.”[i] Okaaaay, that sounds really appetizing.

Even though the second story is actually just a resilient urban legend,[ii] let’s run a thought experiment and pretend it is true. (“Thought experiment” sounds so much brainier than daydreaming, doesn’t it?). Let’s pretend a fast food chain has entered into an agreement with the nearby community sewage treatment plant to harness the culinary potential of its solid waste. Our (of course) fictitious fast food chain uses the magical Japanese machine and voila, s**t sandwiches, turd tacos, s**t burritos and even s**t on a stick.

Should the fast food’s products be labeled to say that they came directly out of someone’s colon? The argument to require labeling says yes. It goes something like this: We do not want to eat that stuff, and we have a representative government, so our government (federal, state, or local) should require such unappetizing food to be labeled for what it is.

You might think you want the source to be labeled, but I don’t think you do.

But, you may be saying, without labeling we might eat s**t! That’s true, but if you do not properly prepare organic produce, you also might eat s**it. According to the conservative think tank Center for Global Food Issues, using 1999 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, while only one percent of the United States food supply is organic, it accounts for eight percent of food related disease in the U.S. primarily due to a deadly new strain of E. coli bacteria (O157:H7)”[iii] found in cow excrement which may be used as organic fertilizer.

At present, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires labeling for specific reasons. If a food is significantly different than its name, the food’s name must be changed to describe the difference. If it has a significantly different nutritional property from its counterpart, its label must reflect the difference.[iv] And, if a food has a potential safety issue, there must be a statement on the label describing the issue; such as if a new food includes an allergen that consumers would not expect to be present based on the name of the food, the presence of that allergen must be disclosed on the label.[v]

The inconvenient truth is that GM products are as safe as any other food products; whether poop meat would be we might never know. The World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and food agencies in the United States and Europe say GM foods currently on the market pose no health risk.

The reasons for a government to require special labeling should be for safety issues, not lifestyle choices. In areas of simple choice, it is not the government’s responsibility to require labeling of the provenance of a food’s origin.

Let’s be clear: the eating of GM food is not a safety issue. GM food falls into the same category as Jewish Kosher or Moslem Sharia law food: that is, that labeling is important to the followers of that ethic. Producers of non-GM, just as producers of Kosher or Sharia food, are free to label their food as such. But, if you really feel that you want to avoid GM, you can eat organic food exclusively.

The call for labeling implies that GM food should be avoided because the food is “unnatural.” This is the “ick” factor that happens with new technology; a 1969 Harris poll found a majority of Americans believed in vitro fertilization (“test tube babies”) was “against God’s will.” In less than a decade, those against had dropped to 28 percent with 60 percent pro-IVF.[vi] Because beliefs evolve, the FDA requires labels on food to safeguard our health, not our beliefs. That is the straight poop.

Here is the bottom line: you are free to follow your beliefs; that is your choice.


[i] Japanese Scientists Create Meat From Poop – (accessed July 17, 2011)

[ii] It appears to be one of those urban legends that crop up from time to time that sound crazy and, given our accelerating pace of technological advance, plausible at the same time. See: The mystery of the Japanese “poop burger” story. (accessed July 17, 2011)

[v] Guidance for Industry: Voluntary Labeling Indicating Whether … (n.d.). Retrieved from


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