Filed Under: Biotechnology Food Scares

“Right to Know” Gimmick Becomes “Right to Sue” Trial Lawyer Payday

California now sits in the number two spot of Judicial Hellholes in the nation, but they’re making a play to top that list very soon.

Proposition 37, which will be on the ballot this November, will all but guarantee payday after payday for trial lawyers in the Golden State. Also known as the Right to Know Genetically Engineering Food Act, the law would require labels on foods and beverages that include ingredients produced with biotechnology. Never mind that biotechnology can produce crops more resistant to disease or with greater yields. Oh, and they’ve been on the market for almost two decades, and there’s no credible evidence that biotech crops have produced even a case of sniffles in humans.

So who stands to benefit, other than dubious nutrition supplement peddlers? If you guessed trial lawyers, you win an organic cookie. They have already attacked food companies for using biotechnology in the past, so having the law in their favor will turn these seemingly frivolous cases into sure winners.

Never mind that biotech crops could change the world and avert the global food crisis; ignore the fact that biotech food has helped nations develop. The American Medical Association’s declaration that “there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods” is irrelevant to the debate, it seems. Facts don’t matter when there’s money to be made.

This should all sound familiar, because Prop 37 isn’t too many steps away from Proposition 65. It was a decade ago when we first noted the outrageous results of Prop 65—when French fries were under attack. It’s a rule that California has only made even worse over the years by adding more and more substances to the list.

So is it any surprise that the man who helped craft Prop 65 is leading the charge for Prop 37? Would you be any less surprised if he tried to deny the blatantly obvious similarities?

Comparing Propositions 65 and 37 “is like comparing apples and hot dogs,” [James] Wheaton said. “Both food, but [then] no resemblance.”

The facts, however, tell us otherwise:

Prop. 37’s private bounty-hunter lawsuit enforcement provisions are nearly identical to Prop. 65’s. According to the non-partisan, independent Legislative Analyst, Prop. 37 allows trial lawyers “to sue without needing to demonstrate that any specific damage occurred as a result of the alleged violation.”

What Wheaton can’t deny is that Prop 65 has served him well. Wheaton is the legal director of the Environmental Law Foundation in Oakland, an organization that scored two settlements last year with the help of Prop 65. The payout? $660,000.

There’s also something to be said about the label that cried wolf. Proposition 65 now has 800 substances that must be branded, leading to outrageous labeling, including airline counters and vacuum cleaners. Californians have been seeing these labels for a long time, and at this point, they probably don’t even catch consumers’ eye.

Instead, let’s require a label on the ballot that some folks might notice: “This referendum contains provisions known to the State of California to enrich trial lawyers.”

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