California voters heading to the polls this fall will be asked to determine if some foods made from plants or animals derived with biotechnology should be labeled at a cost of hundreds of dollars per family, per year.
The California secretary of state officially certified the measure Monday following a signature-gathering campaign by its proponents. Other initiatives on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election are on topics such as auto insurance, political contributions, the death penalty, punishments for human trafficking and the three strikes law.
If approved, the biotech labeling ballot measure would require labeling or reformulation of thousands of grocery products and specifically prohibit advertising processed foods including biotech crops as “natural.”
(For more, see: Opposition grows to California’s food labeling bill)
The proposition allows for multiple exemptions to potential labeling requirements. Many foods – up to 2/3 of those commonly eaten – would not be labeled, including those sold at restaurants or for immediate consumption, those that are certified organic or those that are produced unintentionally with biotech crops.
A broad coalition of agriculture, food, consumer and business groups is opposed to the measure because it would require repackaging and relabeling of most grocery products for the state, generating costs throughout the food chain that would ultimately be borne by consumers and farmers.
The initiative would also likely generate lawsuits that will be fought at taxpayer expense, which California officials say could be significant. Government officials there estimate the direct administrative costs to the state of the initiative would be up to $1 million per year.
Biotechnology is a plant breeding process that has been used in recent decades primarily to improve seeds and help farmers deal with challenges from plant pests, disease and weather while increasing the amount of food grown per acre.
More than 395 million acres of biotech crops were grown in 2011, half in developing countries, according to international organization ISAAA, which tracks the spread of the technology.
Since first being commercialized in 1996, farmers around the world have planted more than 3 billion acres of biotech crops, meaning trillions of meals have included biotech ingredients with no reported health or safety concerns.
The World Health Organization, American Medical Association and the National Academy of Sciences have confirmed that foods made with ingredients from biotech seeds are as safe as, and in some cases safer than, foods with non-biotech ingredients.
Currently, voluntary labeling is permissible under federal law and policy, allowing food companies to advertise their products with labels like “non-GMO.” However, federal law prohibits labeling that is misleading, including mandatory labeling of biotech-derived food products that are no different than non-biotech foods.
Biotech wheat is not commercially produced anywhere in the world and is not expected to be introduced into commercial production for at least seven to 10 years.
More about the ballot initiative here.
More about the history and benefits of biotechnology here.