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Proposition 37 and the definition of natural food

August 08, 2012|By Karin Klein
  • An experimental genetically engineered soybean plant.
An experimental genetically engineered soybean plant. ( Paulo Fridman / Bloomberg )

Let's forget, for the moment, whether it's a good idea to require foods that have been genetically engineered to show that on the labeling, as Proposition 37 on the November ballot would do. There's a curious provision in the initiative that's causing more immediate concern.

The wording has to do with when foods can be labeled "natural," and though it requires a bit of scrolling back and forth from one provision to another to determine which foods are targeted in which provisions, it wouldn't be utterly crazy to read the wording as saying that processed foods — whether they contain genetically engineered ingredients or not — could not be labeled as natural. One example opponents of the measure bring up is olive oil. There are no genetically engineered olive oils, but if the initiative can be read to mean all processed foods, olive oil couldn’t be labeled as natural unless the olives had been grown organically.

Supporters of the measure contend that this isn’t true, that it’s clear the initiative exempts processed foods unless they’re made with significant amounts of engineered ingredients.

PHOTOS: Seven foods, genetically engineered

But the Legislative Analyst's Office isn’t so sure.  Its analysis of Proposition 37 says:

"In addition, the measure prohibits the use of terms such as 'natural,' 'naturally made,' 'naturally grown' and 'all natural' in the labeling and advertising of GE foods. Given the way the measure is written, there is a possibility that these restrictions would be interpreted by the courts to apply to all processed foods regardless of whether they are genetically engineered."

(The emphasis on "all" was by the LAO.)

The Times editorial board has not yet interviewed both sides on the proposition, let alone reached a position on it. But this will certainly be one of the questions that come up. Does it in any way change your opinion of Proposition 37?

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