Regulation
News in brief

CA senator introduces GE labeling bill SB 1381: ‘A simpler, cleaner version of Prop 37’

21-Feb-2014 - By Elaine WATSON
California state senator Noreen Evans
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California state senator Noreen Evans (D – Santa Rosa) has introduced a new GMO labeling bill claimed to be a “simpler, cleaner version of Prop 37’.

According to the Center for Food Safety, SB 1381 is a “cleaned up” version of Proposition 37*, which failed to attract support from groups that might otherwise have backed it (notably the Natural Products Association) because of concerns that it would lay firms open to "frivolous" litigation and contained overly restrictive stipulations over 'natural' labeling. 

Specifically, Prop 37 would have banned firms from marketing any ‘processed food’ as ‘natural’ - even if it did not contain any GMOs - prompting NPA chief executive John Shaw to observe that the “road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

SB 1381, by contrast, contains no reference to natural claims, requires plaintiffs to give 60-days of notice before filing any legal action, and would only allow them to collect attorney's fees and costs, and not damages.

It places limits on potential litigation,"  a CFS spokeswoman told FoodNavigator-USA.

Meanwhile, it also makes clear that food manufacturers - and not retailers - would be held responsible for disclosing whether foods contained ingredients from GM crops, said the CFS, one of 17 environmental, consumer, food groups and small businesses in the Californians for GE Food Labeling coalition.

It further clarifies the proposed law by explicitly providing protections for farmers and retailers, and places limits on potential litigation.”

What the bill says

At the heart of SB1381 is a requirement for companies to disclose if foods sold in California are“genetically engineered” (for raw agricultural commodities) or “Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering (for processed foods).

The bill would authorize the Attorney General or an injured resident to bring an action for injunctive relief and would authorize a court to award a successful plaintiff
reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, but prohibit it from awarding monetary damages.

It excludes certified organic foods, food served in restaurants, and meat and dairy from animals fed GE feed.

Justin Prochnow, an attorney in the Denver office of law firm Greenberg Traurig, noted: "While two states, Connecticut and Maine, have recently passed legislation regarding genetically modified and/or engineered products, those laws are contingent upon four or five other states passing similar laws. The proposed California law has no similar contingency."

*Prop 37 was narrowly rejected by Californians in November 2012 (YES 48.6%; NO: 51.4%).

Click here to read the text of SB 1381, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act.

Related topics: The GM debate, Food labeling and marketing, Regulation