Californians voted against Proposition 37 yesterday, the California ballot initiative that would have compelled labeling for foods developed with the use of recombinant DNA and related technologies, as well as prohibited “natural” claims for certain processed foods. With 98.5 percent of precincts reporting, Californians had voted against Proposition 37 by a margin of 53 to 47 percent.
Proposition 37 would have broadly required labeling of food products unless the manufacturer affirmatively established that food biotechnology was not used in the development of any ingredient, or demonstrated the applicability of one of the exemptions. Raw agricultural commodities would have been required to display on the front of the package, or on a retail shelf or bin if not separately packaged, the statement “Genetically Engineered” in “clear and conspicuous words.” Processed foods would have been required to display either the statement, “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering,” or “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.” The Act would also prohibit certain foods from being characterized as natural.
In both compelling and prohibiting constitutionally protected speech, the initiative would have presented First Amendment concerns if passed, as discussed in a recent piece published by the Washington Legal Foundation. Similar legislation has been proposed by state legislatures outside of California, including in Connecticut, Hawaii and Vermont. In Washington, proponents of compelled labeling requirements are presently collecting signatures for Initiative 522, “The People’s Right To Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” which is largely identical to Proposition 37 and would put the issue to another vote in November 2013.