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California's GMO petition is a danger to industry

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Regardless of how you feel about GMOs, California's ballot initiative is a bad idea. An enforcement provision buried within the law would bring a windfall to trial lawyers and hurt natural products manufacturers while doing nothing to improve the health of consumers.

There has been a great hubbub recently about genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  The Just Label It campaign has submitted a massive petition on the subject to FDA. The move toward requiring GMO ingredients to be called out on labels has garnered some powerful support in the natural products business.

But there is one initiative in this campaign that manufacturers in the natural products business cannot get behind.  The story is unfolding in California, where a group called the Committee for the Right to Know is pushing a ballot initiative.  As with that state’s Proposition 65, which has been on the books since 1986, the intent might be good, but the devil is in the details.

California law allows voters to put laws directly on the books via initiative. (Other states, like Colorado, attach such initiatives as amendments to the state constitution.) Here’s the catch: Unlike laws that go through the legislature, where they are debated, and there is an opportunity for their weaknesses or omissions to be identified and (one hopes) fixed, the California initiative process is an all-or-nothing deal.  Once the language of the proposed law is finalized and the petition process begins, that language can’t be changed.  How would voters know what they are signing up for otherwise? So even while the backers of this initiative say they are open to compromise, it seems functionally impossible.

And buried within this proposed law is a provision on enforcement very similar to the one in Prop 65.  It expands responsibility for enforcement of the law beyond the purview of state government and puts it into the hands of the citizens.  Law firms representing citizens via class actions can sue manufacturers who are deemed to be in violation of various Prop 65 provisions.  And the way the enforcement provision is written, they don’t even have to show that consumers were damaged somehow by the manufacturers’ actions.  Showing injury is a key requirement for bringing almost any civil action.

That Prop 65 wording has taken millions of dollars from manufacturers and put it into the pockets of trial lawyers with little or no benefit to the public.  Certain law firms have made a thriving cottage industry (or should I say, mansion industry) out of bringing these class action suits.  The firms get a huge payday while the class participants might, if they’re lucky, get enough to buy a six pack. Lawyers who sharpened their teeth on Prop 65 are slavering over the potential lawsuit opportunities offered by this new initiative.

The debate on GMOs has not proceeded to the point of litmus tests, i.e., if you agree with me on the GMO issue, you’re good, if not, you’re bad.  Let’s hope it doesn’t. But if it does, keep in mind that industry groups and manufacturers that oppose the California initiative will do so not because they like GMOs necessarily, but because they don’t like frivolous lawsuits.

What's your view?

What's your view on GMOs?  What's the best way to address the issue with legislators? Let us know in the comments below, and follow the discussion on the Engredea/Functional Ingredients Linkedin group.

Discuss this Blog Entry 12

on Apr 6, 2012

What would be a solution to your argument that it could hurt the industry?
If federal labeling seems out of reach, the next best step to ensure our right to know would be state-level. Labeling GMOs is not the bad idea- but as we've seen with the archaic model the FDA uses to count signature for the Just Label It campaign, the ballot initiatives are contrained within the limits already in place. Like JLI, the leaders of the CA Ballot Initiative are working within a framework that is not set up for success, but could affect change and achieve some of the goals set forth for GE labeling.

The CA Ballot Initiative is not a "bad idea". It is a good idea, with possible hang ups as you've pointed out, that are inherent in the democratic process available when working with state and federal governments.

on Apr 6, 2012

Thanks for posting this Hank.....please read my post on this from April 3rd: http://thegormleyfiles.blogspot.com/2012/04/going-ge-free-and-gmo-free-l...

Jeffsbesthemp (not verified)
on Apr 6, 2012

All we need is to get our stat moving on this and once we do, it will be a great watershed piece of legislation. One thing I don't want to see however is yet another verification that vendors have to shoulder the cost of to combat the ill gotten efforts and gains of a multibillion dollar chemical beast like monsanto. rather than make vendors pay through the nose to validate their stuff doesn't have it, I'd prefer that the companies who are corrupt and use GMO's are FORCED to disclose them by law.

on Apr 6, 2012

My Good Food Friends -

What a whine: “Once the language of the proposed law is finalized and the petition process begins, that language can’t be changed. How would voters know what they are signing up for otherwise? So even while the backers of this initiative say they are open to compromise, it seems functionally impossible.” My question would be: Why didn’t the authors write it correctly in the FIRST place?

I had told several people that the California Initiative to Label lost before it even started. They set themselves up, from the very beginning, to not only have to fight Monsanto et al., but some in the Organic Industry and MOST all in the ‘Natural’ Industry with that other bad idea of theirs of calling ‘Natural’ out specifically in the Initiative.

This is just ONE MORE example of ineptness when it comes to playing on that big, rough and tumble, POLITCAL, lock horns, take-no-prisoners, professional game board. We may have a nice group of good-hearted, well-intentioned boys and girls, but POLITICAL winners, they’re not!

Anti-GMOers has been ineffectively countering GMOS since 1996. And the results of their efforts: More acres planted with GMOS than ever before, with more being planted daily. I wouldn’t say that seeing a particular crop become 80% GMO was a successful countering. In fact, GMO ‘agriculture’ is the FASTEST growing segment in Agriculture in the HISTORY of AGRICULTURE! Then, of course, there is the unbridled deregulation of new GMOS at breakneck speed.

YEAH, good thing our current leadership has been looking after us!

To Your Health!
Dennis L. Weaver, MBA, GFG
Founder
Change Your Food - Change Your Life!™
425.774.8971
www.ChangeYourFood.com
- & -
Columnist/Opinion Piece Writer
On the HOME Front Page
Join the Conversation
www.NaturalFoodNet.com
- Plus -
www.OrganicJazz.net
Take a Ride with …
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www.vimeo.com/24252114

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 7, 2012

I second Dennis's view.......

Pamm Larry (not verified)
on Apr 8, 2012

You bet it's a threat to your industry as you will no longer be able to label GMOs as "natural". You will also have to cop to the fact that your "healthy" products have unlabeled GMOs, and that your industry did not take a stand for labeling more than a decade ago.

I speak here as a grandmother and outraged consumer over the lack of integrity in this industry.

I am also the grandmother who started this grassroots-driven initiative on January 20, 2011 in response to numerous industries and a government that ALL abandoned their customers and citizens long ago to make a buck selling them stuff they might not purchase if they were informed. We, on the streets, worked hard and long before catching the attention of our supporters. Thank heavens some folks in your industry had integrity enough to join us.

Let me also be infinitely clear that I am NOT speaking for the campaign coalition here, which is made up of a wide variety of individuals, companies and organizations.

I speak here as an individual who has plenty of criticism for a blog by a group that should have been supporting and furthering your customers' efforts in this since February 2011. Where have you been this last year? Where have you been all these years while poll after poll came out, informing you what your customers wanted? Many in the industry were invited into this initiative process last Summer/Fall but chose to sit on the sidelines...and now this?

I am actually not surprised to find this article here after attending my first Expo West last month and finally getting the full picture of this industry. What an eye opener. No wonder it took a persistent grandmother from Chico and a few organizations and businesses who care to get this going to clean up your mess. And by "your mess" let me be clear that I see you as equals to the other industries that have contributed to it, all the while greenwashing your customers.

If your industry had provided strong leadership, we, your customers who are working hard on this, would not be here now. If you had taken a strong stand and refused to label GMOs "natural" (when BIO even said it's not on their website)...if you had taken a strong stand for labeling for the customers that trusted that they were being informed about what they were eating (and paying dearly for that trust), then there would be no need for this initiative. Instead, you sat silent all those years, colluding and taking the low, safe ground for profit. Customers that know about this are outraged. Hopefully, those that don't know, will soon.

I'm pretty busy now, mobilizing the hardworking people who have provided your profits. After we've won in November (obviously without your help), I'll be sticking around as there is lots that needs transparency. I have a very loud voice, I have no problems telling the truth and I have nothing to lose because I have no fiscal interest in any of this- just ethics.

Thanks to New Hope for going public on your clear position as to how you will try and sabotage the labeling your customers want: ridiculous sidetracks and issue twisting. I'd rather leave the oversight to consumers and citizen groups who have independently tested your products and proven that no attempt was made to be GMO free, than a government and industry with this track record. You have no one to blame but yourselves if you are sued.

Before being submitted, this initiative language was run by many of the top folks in your industry, with an invitation to come to the table to get a law that would work for all, yet mean something. We changed much to accommodate their suggestions. Why was nothing said then? Why wait until now?

A note to all who come here from this persistent grandma: your customers are watching you. We want labeling that means something and has some kind of accountability to trusting customers. How about stepping up instead of sitting on the sidelines and playing it safe, then criticizing?

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 9, 2012

It's so typical of the natural food "industry" to fear the unknown and refuse to support consumers. It's why we're even in this mess in the first place. Where were you in 1996 when the government introduced GMOs into our food supply? If you had had the guts to warn food manufacturers that you would not carry their products if they contained GMOs - we wouldn't be in this mess would we? And why aren't you doing it now? Do you fear lawyers, the FDA or maybe some other "boogey man"? Well - we refuse to leave our health and well being in the hands of an industry that has no problem selling products containing GMOs to consumers anymore because they feel too "scared".

We can't depend on you New Hope 360. Obviously you don't care about doing what is right. You promote and sell GMOs even though you know full well that most health conscious consumers prefer not to eat GMOs, that 90% of the public want them labeled and that they probably are dangerous. Heck, food manufacturers make products non-GMO for European markets but we can’t even depend on them to do what’s right for the American people. We know we can't depend on the government. So yeah, fear whatever you want. We aren't waiting for any of you to save us.

Rather than complain about the initiative and rejecting support for it - why don’t you come up with solutions.? Jimbos market has a policy of not accepting new products that contain GMOs. Sounds like the perfect policy for you! Help manufacturers move to non-GMO suppliers. Educate your customers. There are a million ways New Hope 360 and all natural product suppliers and manufacturers can support consumers who want a choice as to whether or not they eat GMOs.
Californians support the natural product industry by buying your products everyday with billions of dollars. It's time the natural food industry stood by consumers and supported the California ballot initiative to label GMOs.

The only true fear you should have is the backlash of consumers who now know that you don't support their right to choose safe products. Maybe you should call yourselves "False Hope 360".

on Apr 10, 2012

WOW, Pamm! Take a day off. You’re a bit overwrought in that screed of yours. I suggest you ought not be yelling at us, and especially NewHope. First of all, we’re on YOUR side in that those lousy, risky GMOS should not be in any food, ever, whether it’s non-organic, ‘Natural’ or Organic Good Food. We’re only concerned about the technical structure of the Initiative, NOT its objective.

If you were to have taken the opening posting by Hank on this Blog as a positive, it may just have given you some advanced warning as to one of the Initiative’s criticisms and it would afford you the luxury of developing your counter point BEFORE the real fight begins, when the Initiative is on the Ballot. There’s a world of difference in collecting Signatures and then getting Votes.

And since we’ve not heard, how about an update: How’s the Signature count for April 22nd?

And if you think about it, NewHope360 is interested enough in The Industry as to have created this very Forum for discussion and exchange, for you to speak from. NewHope360, unlike so many other ‘Forums’, has no Moderator or Censor. Posts are immediately uploaded and published. They believe in that wide-open, free-flow of commentary, thoughts, arguments, ideas and suggestions. That’s called Democracy.

You say this year’s EXPO was your first. Perhaps if you would had participated in previous years EXPOS, done a bit more research, ‘worked’ your market, the technical language of the Initiative, on which you’ll win or lose, may have been a bit more all-inclusive and could have rallied the support of Industry.

And be prepared for this criticism as the Initiative allows quite a few ‘foods’ TO CONTAIN GMOS and NOT BE LABELED:
§110809.2 Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food – Exemptions
The requirements of Section 110809 (Disclosure With Respect to Genetic Engineering of Food) shall not apply to any of the following:
(e) For the next 7 years, any processed food that would be subject to section 110809 solely because it includes one or more genetically engineered ingredients, provided that: (i) no single such ingredient accounts for more than one-half of one percent of the total weight of such processed food; and (ii) the processed food does not contain more than ten such ingredients.

Remember, those trans-fat boys & girls tried to convince the Consumer that .5g=0, too!

I wasn’t invited to the Initiative process. If I had been, I WOULD have participated. I’m sure there are many like us. So it’s not as though we were “sitting on the sidelines”. I know of many, many in The Industry that have worked diligently every day to inform and educate their Consumers of the risks to People & Planet GMOS pose, and they try do their best, their part, to counter all the misinformation by Monsanto et al.

And ‘Anonymous on 4/9/12’, even though you tried to have a funny with the name New Hope 360, I agree with you that the Industry, and especially the ORGANIC Industry, should have been much, much MUCH more proactive in preventing GMOS from ever getting a foothold in agriculture in the first place.

To Your Health!
Dennis L. Weaver, MBA, GFG
Founder
Change Your Food - Change Your Life!™
425.774.8971
www.ChangeYourFood.com
- & -
Columnist/Opinion Piece Writer
On the HOME Front Page
Join the Conversation
www.NaturalFoodNet.com
- Plus -
www.OrganicJazz.net
Take a Ride with …
The Good Food Truck™
www.vimeo.com/24252114

on Apr 11, 2012

What I am hearing Hank is that you just don't like the initiative process. "Regardless of how you feel about GMO's, the California initiative Ballot is a bad idea."

Then you go on to support your dislike for the initiative process by citing Prop 65, which is all well and good because you were quite correct in citing it as a initiative process and citizens rights to sue 'the industry' for violations of their rights under the law.

"Law firms representing citizens via class actions can sue manufacturers who are deemed to be in violation of various Prop 65 provisions. "

Apparently you don't like the idea of consumers having a right to a) make laws that directly affect them as in the case of this initiative and our right to know what is in our food b) consumers right to sue for damages as in class action law suits where such is the case in which a judge approved a $410 million class-action settlement affecting 13 million Bank of America customers who had debit card overdrafts. Class action law suits against pharmaceutical companies whose drugs resulted in birth defectives, suicides, death. Or class action law suits against BP, Exxon Valdez, Love canal, or Pacific Gas & Electric Company who was illegally dumping hexavalent chromium, a deadly toxic waste poisoning the residents (Erin Brockovich). Or class action lawsuits against the asbestos industry, coal industry and black lung disease to name a few. There are also cases of law firm doing pro bono class actions.

But since your main objection is in not trusting the process by which citizens write the law that insures their health and well being but rather you make your point and it is very clear that you support and trust an industry and a very corrupted political process to regulate and police itself via the brought and paid for by the industry, regulatory and legislative process.

"keep in mind that industry groups and manufacturers that oppose the California initiative will do so not because they like GMOs necessarily, but because they don’t like frivolous lawsuits."

That statement Hank doesn't even make any sense. First, do you know what the legal definition of frivolous is? It means you haven't got a chance in hell of winning. And do you know when it is determined frivolous? Upon the filing by a judge before even an appearance is made by either party. So, the manufacturers and industry groups are going to oppose the people's right to know what is in their food because they don't like the idea of a frivolous lawsuit? Weird.

on Apr 11, 2012

Jeanne,
I take your criticism of the use of the word "frivilous." Wrong word to use.
On the initiative process in general, I am a supporter. But it is a valid criticism, I think, to note that it is inflexible. I report on this industry from the point of view of the suppliers of the ingredients that go into products on the health food store shelves. These are not the DuPonts and Monsantos of the world. Far from it. These are companies with long histories in the natural products business. When companies like these have to build into their budget plans line items for settlement of the almost inevitable Prop 65 lawsuits, something is wrong. So when industry groups look at this initiative, and see a clause that gives trial lawyers similar latitude to the one in Prop 65, they are very concerned.

on Apr 11, 2012

Thank you Hank. On the inflexible issue....At some point any legislation, initiative or legislative, hits a point of no return and becomes inflexible. So I think it must go to the source and intent of the law as the deciding factor. In a corrupt legislature I can expect a corruption of the process. This has been shown to be the case where special interest have the greatest influence and are the deciding factor in how the law is written.

Any process has the capacity to be corrupted. Initiatives have been written and sponsored by special interest groups most assuredly. That is why it is our duty and responsibility to become informed and learn what is at stake and at what cost. There is much less chance of that happening in our capacity as constituents and a much greater chance of it happening as voters. Which is who decides what the law should be in an initiative process.

For those times when our elected officials become so detached, unresponsive and incapable of responding in a timely manner to the needs and demands of the people they vow to serve is when I am most grateful and appreciative of the initiative process.

This is one of those times. This initiative was founded by a grandmother, Pamm Larry, whose only intent was grounded in the need to protect the well being of her and every other unsuspecting, unknowing mother's child and grandchildren. And yes, most certainly she could be categorized as the epitome of a special interest group of which I can attest to being a member of and in good standing.

She started this not knowing what the hell she was getting into or how to do it. She just knew it needed doing. Did she have to compromise along the way to get this to this point? Absolutely. Is this the perfect bill? Absolutely not. But in all honesty Hank what is the alternative at this point in time?

We can survive, and I have no doubt whatsoever that the industry can also, the flaws in this initiative. However, I am not so sure and am extremely doubtful that will can survive any more delays to getting a gmo labeling law on the books.

We have wasted and used up valuable time pleading, begging, petitioning our elected officials and regulatory agencies for just such a law that 50 others countries have already adopted.

Really Hank don't you think that it would behoove us all at this point, especially since the only thing that separates us is 'a clause', to accept that it is not perfect and to embrace as a whole that which will serve as a turning point for us and the next generation?

And lastly Hank, I think we can all agree that some issues are not compromisable. Rights are one of those issues. Thank you.

Helen J. Palmer (not verified)
on Jun 5, 2012

"But if it does, keep in mind that industry groups and manufacturers that oppose the California initiative will do so not because they like GMOs necessarily, but because they don’t like frivolous lawsuits."

Yeah right, one of the company behind big GMO products is Monsanto company, last 2011 they were the worst company according to this article (http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/01/31/monsanto-w...)

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