SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- California voters will soon decide whether to require special labels for food made from genetically modified ingredients, in a closely watched test of consumer attitudes about the merits of genetically engineered crops.
Advocates collected more than half a million signatures supporting the stronger labeling requirements, and the secretary of state this week certified the measure for the state's November ballot.
If it passes, California would be the first state to require labeling of such a wide range of foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
The proposal would require most processed foods by 2014 to bear a label telling shoppers that they contain ingredients derived from plants whose DNA was altered with genes from other plants, animals, viruses or bacteria.
Many backers of similar legislation in more than a dozen states say the intent is to give consumers more information about what they're eating, and foster transparency and trust in the food system. Major agricultural groups and the processed food industry oppose stricter labeling, saying it risks sowing fear and confusion among shoppers.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says genetically modified foods pose no greater health risks than traditional foods. Opponents of labeling rules say they could prompt hikes in packaging costs.
If the measure passes, most raw or processed food made from plants or animals with engineered genetic material would need to be labeled, although certified organic foods and alcohol would be exempted. Meat and dairy products also would not require a label if the animals are fed with genetically engineered grains, which the initiative's opponents say amounts to a loophole.
"Consumers have a fundamental right to know what is in their food and make choices, so I think everyone should be working toward this," said Albert Straus, president of the Straus Family Creamery, a popular organic dairy in Petaluma. "Our labeling costs do not go through to the consumer."
Straus avoids using genetically modified feed for his herd. His creamery became the first in the country to be voluntarily certified as GMO-free in 2010.
Organic farmers say they stand to benefit from more informed consumers who may reject genetically modified products and instead choose organic food.
The Food and Drug Administration is considering a petition to label genetically engineered foods nationwide.
The Organic Consumers Association has said labeling GMO ingredients in the U.S. also would make domestic markets more competitive with markets in the European Union, which imposes guidelines on informing consumers about genetically modified food.
Labeling opponents in California, however, say the measure could spark frivolous lawsuits brought by citizens who believe a product is mislabeled, even if they don't claim to have been harmed.
"This could become a lawsuit magnet well beyond the borders of California," said Tom Scott, executive director of the Sacramento-based California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. "You're just going to see trial lawyers walking up and down grocery store aisles saying this doesn't meet the labeling requirements."
The change could also place a new financial burden on farms, said Jamie Johansson, an Oroville farmer who is second vice president of the California Farm Bureau Federation.
"Then, of course, there are the legal concerns about verifying that you are GMO-free," he said.
California Secretary of State Debra Bowen also certified seven additional initiatives for November, including a proposal to modify California's strict three-strikes sentencing law by making a life sentence on a third strike possible only when the new conviction is serious or violent.
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Prop 30: Gov. Jerry Brown's Tax Initiative
<strong>YES vote: </strong> There will be an increase in state income taxes on the wealthy (those who make over $250,000) for seven years. Sales taxes will increase by ¼ cent for four years. Its passage will stave off $6 billion in automatic “trigger cuts” -- mainly to K-12 schools and state universities -- that Gov. Jerry Brown wrote into the 2012-2013 budget. <strong>NO vote: </strong> State income taxes and sales taxes are not increased, and California's education budget will be gutted in accordance with Brown's "trigger cut" budget. <em>California Gov. Jerry Brown joins students at a rally promoting Prop. 30 in the upcoming election in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. Prop 30 would raise taxes, directing the money toward education. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)</em>
Prop 31: Two-Year Budget Cycle
<strong>YES vote: </strong> All bills will be made public at least three days before coming to a vote before the legislature, lengthen the state's budgeting cycle from one to two years, mandate the identification of funding sources for all new programs costing over $25 million and allow local governments to create "regional collaboration" bodies possessing the ability to supersede state laws. <strong>NO vote: </strong> There will be no change to the California legislature and governor's fiscal responsibilities.
Prop 32: Ban On Corporate & Union Contributions
<strong>YES vote: </strong> Unions and corporations cannot use money automatically deducted from employee checks for political donations. <strong>NO vote: </strong> There will be no change to the laws that currently allow unions and corporations to use money automatically deducted from their employees' pay checks for political purposes.
Prop 33: Auto Insurance Histories
<strong>YES vote: </strong> Auto insurance companies will take into account a customer's car insurance history, even if it spans different companies. <strong>NO vote: </strong> Auto insurance companies will continue to be prohibited from giving customers discounts based on their histories with other companies.
Prop 34: Repeal Of The Death Penalty
<strong>YES vote: </strong> The death penalty will end in California. <strong>NO vote: </strong> California's death penalty sentence remains intact.
Prop 35: Human Trafficking Penalties
<strong>YES vote: </strong> Prosecutors will be able to seek harsher penalties (fines and prison sentences) for convicted human traffickers. <strong>NO vote: </strong> The laws currently in place about sentencing convicted human traffickers will remain intact.
Prop 36: Repeal Of The 'Three Strikes' Law
<strong>YES vote: </strong> Convicts with two prior convictions who commit a third, nonserious or non-violent crime will not be sentenced to life in prison. Those who are currently in jail with a life sentence for a nonserious or non-violent crime could be given shorter prison sentences. <strong>NO vote: </strong> California's "Three Strikes Law," in which felons could receive life imprisonment for their third conviction, remains intact. Those already in jail for their third felony will remain.
Prop 37: GMO Labeling
<strong>YES vote: </strong> Companies will be required to put labels on all food with GMOs (genetically modified organisms). <strong>NO vote: </strong> Genetically engineered foods will continue to remain unlabeled.
Prop 38: Molly Munger's Tax Initiative
<strong>YES vote: </strong> All Californians will have a higher rates of personal income taxes, the revenues of which get routed to local K-12 schools and early childhood programs. <strong>NO vote: </strong> Californians continue with their current personal state income tax rates. Schools get no extra money. <em>Molly Munger, a wealthy attorney and civil rights advocate, listens to a reporters question regarding her proposed ballot initiative to raise income taxes for school funding following her appearance at the California Parent Teacher Association's annual meeting in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)</em>
Prop 39: Income Tax Increases For Multistate Businesses
<strong>YES vote: </strong> All businesses will be forced to calculate their taxes based exclusively on in-state sales. <strong>NO vote: </strong> Businesses will continue to choose whether to calculate their state taxes based on either the sales they make in the state or a combination of sales, property and employees in the state.
Prop 40: Referendum On State Senate Redistricting Plan
<strong>YES vote: </strong> California will continue to use the new Senate district boundaries that were drawn and certified by the Citizens Redistricting Commission in 2011. <strong>NO vote: </strong> The California Supreme Court will appoint a special master to determine new state senate districts.