The Californian ‘Right to Know’ campaign in support of labeling foods and ingredients produced using genetic engineering looks set for inclusion in the state’s November ballot, after it attracted nearly a million signatures. If enacted, what would the proposed law mean for food manufacturers?
The state has up to seven weeks to validate the 971,126 signatures. If they are validated, and voters approve the measure in November, food manufacturers could be required to label genetically modified (GM) foods and ingredients sold in California from July 1, 2014.
The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act would require such foods to be labeled in a “clear and conspicuous” manner, whether raw agricultural commodities or processed foods.
The bill reads that a food would deemed to be misbranded unless labeled: “In the case of any processed food, in clear and conspicuous language on the front or back of the package of such food, with the words “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering””
GMOs deemed ‘unnatural’
In addition, food labeled as ‘natural’ would be deemed misbranded under the legislation if it contained genetically modified ingredients, in line with the precept of a swathe of lawsuits that have been brought against food companies in California. Currently the US Food and Drug Administration has no definition of the word ‘natural’.
The proposed legislation contains a number of exceptions, including allowances for unintentional presence of GM ingredients, and meat or milk from animals that may have eaten feed produced using genetic engineering. These would be exempt from labeling under the proposal, as is the case in European law.
Until July 2019, food products would also be exempt from labeling if a GM ingredient accounts for less than 0.5% of the food’s total weight, and foods could contain up to ten such ingredients.
Several major industry organizations and trade groups have set up a campaign opposing the proposition, including the California Retailers Association, Grocery Manufacturers Association, American Beverage Association, and California League of Food Processors, among others . Calling the coalition ‘Californians Against the Costly Food Labeling Proposition’, they claim that labeling GM foods and ingredients could increase food prices and mislead consumers into thinking their foods are unsafe.
The bill states that its purpose is to allow the people of California to “choose for themselves whether to purchase and eat such foods.”