Watching Tomorrow’s Ballot Measures

Regular readers here will be familiar with activists’ high hopes for ballot initiatives that will restrict food freedom. In past years, we have seen animal rights activists use ballot measures to ban farming practices that may lead to increased imports from less-humane Mexican producers. This year, we’ve identified three ballot measures — incidentally, all in California — that if passed will impact food freedom.

· The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act (Proposition 37): This measure would mandate the labeling of many foods produced using biotechnology (animal feed would be exempt as would restaurant food, among others). We have been skeptical of labeling biotech food products for a long time, and nothing Prop 37 supporters have said has convinced us to change our position. The American Association for the Advancement of Science finds that the scientific evidence proves biotech crops are safe and sees no reason to alter current labeling practices. The American Medical Association also holds that labeling biotech food is unnecessary.

If the measure passes, organic activists, like osteopath and FDA-warned natural foods hawker Joseph Mercola, expect to gain. So do trial lawyers, as the proposed law contains a “bounty hunter” provision similar to that of Prop 65, the California ballot measure that required cancer warnings on everything from fishing rods to parking garages.

California newspapers have been widely skeptical of the measure: The Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Sacramento Bee are just a few of the many editorial boards that have opposed Prop 37. The latest poll from Pepperdine University shows the measure in trouble, with 51 percent opposed.

· City of Richmond Tax on Soda (Measure N): This measure would enact Kelly Brownell’s one-cent per ounce tax on sugary soft drinks purchased for sale within the city of Richmond, California. The measure is administratively odd, as it would not apply at the point of sale but rather as a surcharge to the business license fee of businesses selling soft drinks. This has led some to speculate that the costs of paying the tax will be borne by consumers of all grocery items, not just soda. Also, the tax will be easy to avoid as it will only apply within Richmond city limits.

Activists hope that the initiative will reduce obesity, but as we have noted before, evidence suggests that meaningful reductions are unlikely (predictions that the tax will result in a cut of less than 1 percent of daily intake count as optimistic). The San Francisco Chronicle has taken a dim view of the soda tax, twice editorializing that voters should reject it.

· City of El Monte Soda Tax (Measure H): This measure, modeled on the Richmond proposal, would institute the one-cent-per-ounce tax on soft drinks in the city of El Monte, California. The problems with the measure are the same as those with Measure N, and that has led the Los Angeles Times to endorse a no vote. One newspaper editor is so confident that the measure will fail that he has already proposed drinking exotic sodas to celebrate.

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