California’s Proposition 37 to require labeling of foods with biotech ingredients, if it is passed and goes into effect, would be a “boondoggle” for litigation attorneys, a legal expert says, since it authorizes citizen lawsuits against alleged violators.
“This will result in employment for lawyers,” commented Gary E. Marchant, professor of emerging technologies, law and ethics at the Arizona State University College of Law. Lawyers can collect legal fees and seek punitive damages under Prop 37 and California law, he noted. Marchant spoke during a teleconference debate on Prop 37 sponsored by the American Bar Association.
Prop 37 authorizes private citizens - and plaintiff’s attorneys - to bring lawsuits alleging violations of California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA). This law allows consumers to sue without having to demonstrate that any specific damage occurred as a result of the alleged violation, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO). CLRA allows for punitive damages, which can be substantial. Prop 37 also allows the court to award these parties all reasonable costs incurred in investigating and prosecuting the action.
Marchant noted that Prop 37 could also cause havoc in the use of “natural” claims, such as “all natural,” “naturally made,” “naturally grown,” and the like, since it appears to prohibit natural claims on any processed foods.
He cited the LAO, which says: “Given the way the measure is written, there is a possibility that these restrictions would be interpreted by the courts to apply to all processed foods regardless of whether they are genetically engineered.”
Dr. Alison L. Van Eenennaam, cooperative extension specialist in animal biotechnology and genomics at the University of California, Davis, emphasized that labeling “is not a food safety issue,” citing the fact that hundreds of scientific studies have affirmed the safety of biotech foods and ingredients.
In response to the argument that 95 percent of consumers allegedly favor labeling, Dr. Van Eenennaam pointed out that in the same survey by Consumer Reports magazine, more than 90 percent of respondents favored all six of the labeling proposals tested in the poll. More objective surveys have shown far less consumer interest in labeling, she said.
Consumer support for labeling “depends on how the question is worded,” Dr. Van Eenennaam said.