Consumers want more information, not less. Opponents of genetically engineered food are taking advantage of that desire as they promote Proposition 37, an ill-conceived initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot that would require California-only labels on some food that is genetically modified or contains genetically altered ingredients.
We don't oppose labeling of genetically modified food. But the federal government, or the food industry, should develop standards, not individual states.
Prop. 37 is an overreach, and would encourage countless lawsuits against retailers who sell food that might lack the proper labeling. Proponents made no effort to push the concept through the Legislature. While such a bill might have failed, at least the Legislature's attorneys and analysts could have refined ambiguous provisions.
Under Prop. 37, no food that uses genetically engineered ingredients could be called natural. That seems to make certain sense. But it contains wording that could prohibit "natural" labels on any food that that has been pressed or milled. That might include grain, which is milled, or olive oil, which is produced by pressing olives. Proponents say that wasn't their intent. But that's no guarantee against lawsuits.
The measure would exempt restaurant food, cheese, meat and alcohol from labeling requirements. Oddly, pet food might not be exempt.
Under the initiative, private attorneys and plaintiffs would have the power to enforce it by suing retailers they suspect of selling products that are not properly labeled.
The Legislative Analyst's Office noted that the initiative authorizes "consumers to sue without needing to demonstrate that any specific damage occurred as a result of the alleged violation."
Backers of the measure have raised about $2.5 million, much of it from alternative health advocates and an organic food promoter from Minnesota. Monsanto Co., which supports labeling in Europe, is the largest single donor to the opposition campaign, which has raised $27 million so far.
The flawed measure would set back the cause of labeling. But the food industry should take Prop. 37 as a warning. Consumers want to know what's in their food. However, this measure isn't the proper vehicle.