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Food for Thought: California’s Proposition 37

Voters in California will head to the polls this election day to decide a hotly debated food policy issue that has made headlines nationwide.  The proposed law they will vote on, Proposition 37, is an initiative aimed at requiring manufacturers of genetically engineered (“GE”) foods to label their product as containing GE ingredients.  As summarized by California’s Attorney General’s office, the important parts of the law break down as follows:

  • Raw or processed foods offered for sale to consumers if made from plants or animals with GE material must be labeled as containing such ingredients; raw commodities must be labeled as “Genetically Engineered,” while processed food must be labeled with the words “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering”;
  • GE or other processed food cannot be labeled or advertised as “natural”;
  • The following foods are exempt from the proposed GE labeling requirements: certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; and alcoholic beverages.

What does this mean for the dietary supplement industry?  While the exact impact of the law on the industry at large remains somewhat unknown, the reality is that the law will affect those manufacturers distributing in California at some level.  For example, if any of the ingredients in a product are GE, the product must be labeled as containing such ingredients. Given that 70-80% of all corn and soy produced in the U.S. is GE, it will be difficult to get around the labeling requirement should the proposition pass.

While Prop 37 has its ardent supporters, including a variety of celebrities who have put together a commercial currently airing in California, industry groups oppose the proposition on very specific grounds.  For example, The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) openly opposes Prop 37 based on the language defining processed foods as: “any food that has been produced from a raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to processing such as canning, smoking, pressing, cooking, freezing, dehydration, fermentation or milling.”  CRN has argued this definition is overbroad and also that many supplements will no longer be able to make “natural” claims because they fall within Prop 37’s definition of “processed.”

We’ll have to wait to see what happens on Tuesday, November 6 when California voters have the final word.  Stay tuned…