Opinion Columns & Blogs

Lyons, Bradford: Labeling law would hurt California farmers

An employee works on a vegetable display; even bulk produce grown with genetically engineered seeds would need labels in California under a new bill.
An employee works on a vegetable display; even bulk produce grown with genetically engineered seeds would need labels in California under a new bill. Associated Press file

Farmers, scientists, businesses and others have joined to strongly oppose Senate Bill 1381, a costly, anti-science food labeling bill moving its way through the state Legislature.

This legislation would add massive new bureaucracy and red tape for California family farmers and food producers; it will increase grocery costs for consumers, and could stifle new scientific advances in agriculture that help local farmers grow environmentally beneficial and abundant healthy crops – all while promoting misleading and unnecessary information to consumers.

SB 1381 would effectively ban the sale of tens of thousands of perfectly safe, common grocery products in California that contain genetically engineered (GE) ingredients unless they are specially repackaged, relabeled or remade with higher-cost ingredients. It would mandate complex new food-labeling regulations in California that don’t exist in any other state or federally.

Consumers already have access to myriad information about the food they buy and can already opt to purchase certified organic food or foods voluntarily labeled as GE-free if they choose. We do not need SB 1381’s costly and unnecessary regulations.

The bill would force farmers and food companies in California to implement costly new labeling, packaging, distribution, recordkeeping and other bureaucratic processes that will incur enormous costs. Or, companies will be forced to switch to higher-priced, non-GE ingredients to sell food in California.

A study conducted in 2012 by two UC Davis professors of agricultural economics found that this type of labeling would result in $1.2 billion in higher costs for those who grow and make our food. Consumers will shoulder the burden through higher costs at the grocery store, up to $400 per year, according to a separate study.

Further, by requiring what amounts to a de facto warning label, SB 1381 promotes providing fear-based, instead of science-based, information to consumers. It would send the wrong signal to consumers that genetically engineered foods are somehow different or less safe than their conventional counterparts, when an abundance of science and research has conclusively proven otherwise.

Biotechnology, or genetic engineering, has been used for nearly two decades to grow varieties of corn, soybeans and other crops to resist diseases and pests and better withstand droughts such as the one California is in now. As a result of these advances, our farmers can use fewer pesticides and less land to grow crops.

There are more than 600 peer-reviewed reports which document the general safety, agricultural benefits and nutritional wholesomeness of GE crops. Major scientific and medical organizations including the National Academy of Sciences, World Health Organization and American Medical Association have concluded that GE ingredients are safe.

SB 1381 would, without a doubt, increase state bureaucracy and impose millions in added costs to taxpayers. Our already overburdened state regulators would have to monitor tens of thousands of food labels at tens of thousands of grocery stores, retail outlets, farms and food companies.

Finally, SB 1381 would create a new class of harassment lawsuits, enabling lawyers to sue farmers, grocers and food companies over the wording on food labels. This bill will not provide meaningful benefits to consumers and, in fact, will cause needless concern and confusion about food produced in California. It will increase costs to our agriculture industry and all the industries that employ workers to support agriculture.

A similar food labeling measure, Proposition 37, was rejected by voters just a few years ago by a resounding 60 percent of voters in San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties.

We urge our local lawmakers to stand with local voters, farmers and consumers in rejecting SB 1381.