Whole Foods suffers second thoughts on Prop. 37

Whole Foods suffers second thoughts on Prop. 37

Oct. 30, 2012

By Wayne Lusvardi

The campaign over Proposition 37 isn’t as simple as it might seem at first glance. On the Nov. 6 ballot, the Genetically Engineered Labeling Initiative would mandate that genetically modified foods be given special labels.

Whole Foods Market, the giant health-foods store, originally backed the initiative. But since then it has taken two giant steps backwards from its original support. In particular, in an “Update” announcement, it has come out against the handling of the enforcement of Proposition 37 by “private plaintiff attorneys pursuing civil litigation”:

“The people of California’s best interests will not be properly represented as the enforcement of Proposition 37 will not be handled in partnership with the California Attorney General’s Office to ensure objective guidance and impartial oversight, but instead by private plaintiff attorneys pursuing civil litigation. Manufacturers could be compelled to label products with ‘May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering’ even if it is not the case to avoid costly litigation and protect themselves. This could result in consumers receiving inaccurate information, which is contrary to the intent of the proposition itself.”

Proposition 37 was written by Jim Wheaton, a trial lawyer. According to the California Attorney General’s Office Annual Summaries of Private Settlements (see summary at link), Wheaton assisted in writing previous ballot measures that have shaken down businesses for $500 million over the last 20 years. One of the provisions of Prop. 37 would allow lawyers to sue small neighborhood grocers and family farmers if the wording used on food labels was not compliant.  No harm would have to be proved.

Difference in Standards as Trade Barrier?

Whole Foods added that there are differences between Prop. 37’s standard of 0.5 percent of single micro-ingredients to qualify a product as genetically engineered and the 0.9 percent international standard, which is weaker.  Whole Foods wrote:

“There are differences between standards under Proposition 37 and other standards and labeling programs, which could create labeling challenges and consumer confusion.” 

Whole Foods further clarified that backing off its full support for Prop. 37 was based on “feedback and further evaluation of the proposition.”

What Whole Foods might be hinting at is lawsuits, brought by international food producers, that claim California’s new standard establishes a trade barrier against imported genetically altered foods, violating free trade agreements supervised by the World Trade Organization.  Prop. 37 apparently would affect any food that has a genetically engineered ingredient that amounts to a half percent of the total ingredients in a food product.

Proposition 37 Throws Monkey Wrench into Food Regulation

Whole Foods continues its support of Prop. 37 on its website.  The company “advocates for consumers’ right to know how food is produced.” Maybe instead it also should advocate the “right to know” how California’s laws are produced, something few citizens understand.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration already regulates genetically modified foods and has powers to recall products, seize products, stop manufacturing by court order and impose criminal fines and jail time.

The Food and Drug Branch of the California Department of Public Health wields similar powers.

What Prop. 37 does is let third-party lawyers in on the enforcement action to shake down businesses. That reminds me of what radical environmental activist Edward Abbey once said:

“There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. 
And then there is California.”

John Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods, is a self-professed libertarian. So it is odd seeing his company advocate greater government regulation. Perhaps Whole Foods’ second thoughts are his conscience poking him.


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  1. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 30 October, 2012, 12:02

    My spouse and I disagreed. He voted, “Yes”, and I voted, “No”.

    Reply this comment
  2. us citizen
    us citizen 30 October, 2012, 14:49

    Im voting yes. Why? Because there is no proof that GMO foods are safe. I say this because of this……….diabetes. All of a sudden this disease has taken off like wild fire. Why? Little kids are getting it, when it has taken adults years and years to get it in the past. Most diabetics (#2) are NOT fat. Being fat has nothing to do with getting it. The news keeps harping on this, but it is not true. All you have to do is research it. What this tells me is that something in our food supply has changed since about the 60’s for this to become so rampant. All I can say is GMO’s are not responsible for diabetics BUT may contribute to something else in the future.

    Reply this comment
  3. Andy Favor
    Andy Favor 30 October, 2012, 15:14

    It looks like they switched back. The link in this story takes you to a statement of support now. But this is all about the trial attornies so I am a big no.

    Reply this comment
  4. Dyspeptic
    Dyspeptic 30 October, 2012, 19:07

    Shame on John Mackey (a featured speaker at Libertyfest this year) for supporting this hysteria mongering, scientifically fraudulent ambulance chasing scheme. This is the worst sort of public policy because it exploits widespread scientific ignorance for the purpose of enriching wealthy special interest groups like trial lawyers and the organic food industry. I don’t know what the polls say about the prospects for this proposition but given the ignorance and gullibility of Crazyfornia voters I’m betting it will pass. Scaring voters in this state is as easy as taking candy from a baby.

    That Edward Abbey quote is pure gold.

    Reply this comment
  5. Sea palm
    Sea palm 31 October, 2012, 07:11

    Trying to reframe the discussion about whether or not consumers have the right to know what is in their food into being about lawsuits, increased costs & exceptions is a cheap and obvious PR ploy to divert discussion of the real issue: is the public entitled to informed consent about their food?

    The biggest global players in the agrochemical, biotech & food sectors have amassed a warchest of +$44 million to defeat Prop 37 and they are not doing this to protect consumers from lawsuits and greedy lawyers. These companies hold the patents on GMO seeds & associated pesticides, and right now, with no labels, they can sell GMO foods for the same price as conventional foods in the USA, while in countries that require labeling, GMO’s sell for less than conventional foods. There is so little consumer demand in Europe that GMO’s are basically just used for animal feed. It is only possible to substitute ever increasing percentages of lower cost and risker transgenic foods into the USA diet while GMO foods are invisible due to a lack of labeling. No labeling creates more profit for GMO producers and processors- it is an artificial price support for a commodity that has absolutely no consumer demand or benefits. There would only be cause for lawsuits if companies try to cheat consumers by false labeling or substitution, which they can now do legally.

    As for lawyers, Monsanto has an litigation history a mile long, that includes trying to sue companies for labeling products as not containing their GMO growth hormone, suing small farmers for their life savings because Monsanto’s patented seeds blew into their fields, and denying harming the health of US veterans from exposure to Agent Orange. Their other high science products included DDT, which is now a toxic body burden to lifeforms worldwide and is still present in mother’s breast milk decades after being banned in the USA. Their DDT also almost caused the extinction of the American eagle. The ocean off Palos Verdes, CA is now a SuperFund site and home to the largest DDT deposit in the world, and as a result people are advised- by the government- not to eat the fish caught in that area. To say that Monsanto has made inaccurate safety claims in the past would be an understatement.

    Personally, I wouldn’t be inclined to believe anything the agrochemical industry says about any of it’s products: one would have to be feeble to continuing trusting companies that have caused so much human and environmental health damage in the past. Our food supply is too important to turn over to corporations wanting to patent life and create monopolies. Our food security is best served by diversity of food crops and ownership.

    The public has been asking for GMO labeling since these were introduced in the 1990’s and has been ignored. The 61 other countries that currently require labeling cited scientific findings for requiring labeling and do have credible scientists. Europe wanted to ban the importation of GMO’s entirely, but was threatened by the USA with a lawsuit as a restraint of trade under WTO rules, so labeling in Europe was only a fallback position.

    People don’t need an advanced degree to understand GMO’s: we all memorized the definition of a species & a species barrier in high school biology. Most people aren’t nearly naive enough to trust mega corporations trying to create food monopolies and financially compromised politicans, scientists and government agencies to decide what they should eat. If you want to eat three meals a day doused in Round-up for your entire, life go for it, but don’t deny others the choice. Consumers can’t vote with there pockets for or against GMO foods while they are unlabeled- because they are invisible. I will save money because I will no longer be forced to buy costly organics to avoid transgenic foods. If you like, want and trust GMO foods, the prices will most likely go down with labeling, as they have in parts of the world where labels are required.

    “GMO’s are a new form of slavery.”
    Vatican Cardinal Peter Turkson

    A Yes vote on 37 is a vote for transparency, accountability and informed consent in our food supply.

    Reply this comment
  6. Dave Boz
    Dave Boz 31 October, 2012, 08:05

    “[I]s the public entitled to informed consent about their food?”

    Nice sentiment, but that is not the objective of the law. The purpose of this law is to produce lawsuits, not information. This was also the purpose of the law that requires every business in the state to post a sign stating that cancer-causing substances may be present. What information do you think you have obtained from a sign that is on literally every place of business in the state?

    It will be the same with Prop. 37. Within a few years, every piece of food sold in the state will contain the label ‘May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.’ And what useful information do you think you will have gained?

    Reply this comment
  7. joyce hope
    joyce hope 31 October, 2012, 14:23

    The fact is, Whole Foods still supports prop 37. They know that the people who shop at their stores are concerned and have the right to know what they are consuming. Just as prop 65 prompted manufacturers to reduce toxins and lead in their products, the passage of prop 37 will bring public awareness of GMOs to the forefront. As a consumer, I would rather support food companies that do not use GMO products, not only because of potential health risks but because of the environmental impact of GMO based crop production. Anyway, what benefit is there to me to eat GMOs? To me a food that is made from GMO crops conveys cheapness and I would rather have quality.

    Reply this comment
  8. Karrie
    Karrie 1 November, 2012, 06:50

    “The purpose of this law is to produce lawsuits, not information”…… so the grandma who got Prop 37 on the ballot, Pamm Larry, started this whole movement to produce lawsuits? Come on! And I don’t care what sort of problems this law causes companies, JUST DON’T SELL GMO-food, no matter what the percent! They have not been proven safe, end of story. And if 50+ other countries label GMOs, I don’t want to hear this WHINING from companies here about what the law passing means for them, if they truly care they will FIGURE IT OUT.

    Reply this comment
  9. M
    M 1 November, 2012, 10:56

    Read Whole Foods page for yourself people. This one is lying. They do support CONTINUE Prop 37. They are stating concern over the amount of GMO allowed before needing to be labeled. They claim to be GMO free yet have been caught using GMO corn and soybean oil in the past. Watch roaches run when the lights go on Eh? Also read where the money is coming from for the NO on 37 campain.. MONSANTO, CONAGRA, KELLOGS, PEPSI, HERSHEY, TREETOP, GERERAL MILLS, H.J. HEINZ, GERERAL MILLS, HORMEL, KRAFT FOODS GLOBAL, the list goes on and on.. read the prop for yourselfs at the .gov page. it does say you can sue but that would be IF the product was not labeled GMO when it should have been which would be breaking the law if this passes and they should be sued, right? Perhaps they should rethink their product? Also this increase if food cost is a bunch of BS!! How much could it cost to print one more line of ink on a label already being printed. Don’t fall for the lies of larget corporations putting crap food in the mouths of our children that 60 other countries have either banned or have a label. It has GMO or it doesn’t. That simple. WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW!! VOTE YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply this comment
  10. Dyspeptic
    Dyspeptic 1 November, 2012, 11:42

    “And I don’t care what sort of problems this law causes companies”

    It’s so nice to see the rabid anti-business sentiment from the pro Prop. 37 crowd. So the “precautionary principle” is now the salient ethos for you luddite reactionaries? Have you ever in your life contemplated the social cost of regulatory compliance while daydreaming in your taxfeeder cubicles? Does it ever occur to you that regulatory and litigation excess have negative economic consequences like higher unemployment, lower employee compensation and more expensive products? Are you at all familiar with the concept of cost vs. benefit analysis? Didn’t think so.

    If scary labeling is really necessary then bring it on. Lets label cell phones and microwaves as cancer causing agents because there is still no definitive proof that Unidentified Radiolytic By-products are harmless (remember the precautionary principle now). Lets label organic foods as health threats too since who knows what levels of lead, cadmium or mercury they contain, not to mention the presence of potentially carcinogenic natural pesticides and toxins (yes kids, mommy nature produces toxic chemicals too).

    Do you see where this leads? There is no end to the scare mongering that can happen when businesses are burdened with having to prove a negative or submit to labeling for unproven risks. You fans of hyper-regulation of business don’t seem too worried about THE FLUORIDE GOVERNMENT PUTS IN YOUR WATER, even though fluoride is an industrial waste product of aluminum smelting and is easily obtainable in a variety of cheap and common oral hygiene products.

    “Trying to reframe the discussion about whether or not consumers have the right to know what is in their food into being about lawsuits, increased costs & exceptions is a cheap and obvious PR ploy to divert discussion of the real issue: is the public entitled to informed consent about their food?”

    Economic cost resulting from regulation is a legitimate issue that regulatory enthusiasts hate to discuss because it requires rational analysis. Maybe Crazyfornia’s scandalously high unemployment rate and cost of living are in part due to this. It’s easy to claim health risks but I noticed none of the pro Proposition 37 advocates here have given an ounce of scientific proof for these claims, just classic scare mongering about potential harm. Regarding the dubious claim that consumers have a right to know what is in their food, most consumers are so scientifically illiterate that they have no capacity or inclination to understand the labeling anyway. Imagine the kind of havoc one could produce among impressionable shoppers by requiring a food label that stated “CAUTION: THIS PRODUCT CONTAINS DIHYDROGEN MONOXIDE!”

    “People don’t need an advanced degree to understand GMO’s: we all memorized the definition of a species & a species barrier in high school biology.”

    Wrong again. Most people either didn’t take high school biology or have forgotten whatever smidgen of information they learned there. Go ask any random group of a thousand people who Gregor Mendel is or ask them to define the Krebs Cycle or the meaning of “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”. Still think the average Americano knows squat about Biology? Most people couldn’t tell you the difference between Mitosis and MySpace.

    But don’t worry business haters, Prop. 37 will no doubt pass and we will be inundated with warnings about dreaded GMO’s in our food. Don’t be surprised if people end up ignoring the warnings though. After all, who pays any attention to the ubiquitous Prop. 65 warning labels. I recently assembled a piece of furniture made in China that was plastered with multiple Prop. 65 warnings. Who knew you could get cancer from a wood chair? Just remember the cautionary tale of the boy who cried wolf, ’cause there is only so much warning people can handle before they tune it out.

    Reply this comment
  11. Kathleen
    Kathleen 1 November, 2012, 15:42

    I agree with Sea Palm. And yeah, I don’t think Monsanto gives a [hoot] about saving us from trial lawyers and lawsuits. Label GMOs and vote yes on 37.

    And to all of you “No on 37ers”, don’t think for a minute that you’re getting anywhere by insulting people and saying how stupid we are for voting yes on 37.

    Reply this comment
  12. A Marquez
    A Marquez 1 November, 2012, 22:01

    I really don’t think the JUNK FOOD and CHEMICAL companies care about anything but profits. Sorry if some might think that’s ANTI-BUSINESS but they are ANTI-HEALTH. If they are going to be selling or making food that have health RISKS I want to KNOW.

    Here’s an example of Monsanto’s disregard for people’s health from Wikipedia:
    As of 2012, Monsanto is associated with 11 “active” Superfund sites and 20 “archived” sites in the US, in the EPA’s Superfund database.[80] Monsanto has been sued, and has settled, multiple times for damaging the health of its employees or residents near its Superfund sites through pollution and poisoning.

    Superfund is a US federal government program designed to fund the cleanup of toxic waste sites identified by the EPA as an area contaminated with hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment.

    The Monsanto company has created the most superfund sites in the US.
    Should we really be eating food that was created by Monsanto?? Do we really want to eat food that was created by Monsanto??

    Reply this comment
  13. Deb
    Deb 1 November, 2012, 23:10

    I voted yes! We have a right to know what’s in our foods, and there is such a need for more research into potential health and environmental impacts from GMOs. Let citizens who want to exercise caution have the information we need. Don’t be confused, this isn’t a ban, it’s information. The Agribusinesses who are invested in GMO production are bankrolling the “no” campaign, and their interest isn’t the public’s interest, it’s their own.

    Reply this comment

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