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Proposition 37: Do-Gooder Proposition or Job Killing Nightmare?

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By Cleo Jenkins, Guest Columnist

Surveying the state ballot measures up for consideration in November, one might be struck by Proposition 37. It is a measure that would eliminate or make prohibitively expensive foods like collard greens that have various cleaning processes between being planted in the ground and making it to the table.

Because collards, like all foods, have pesticides that prevent bugs from killing the crop and are often cleaned before going to market they are “genetically modified.” This is a broad term that means any food that is touched by any substance, chemical or refined by any manufacturing process is altered from its natural state. Preservatives also genetically modify foods. Proposition 37 would make it a crime to have such foods without a label indicating so.

So what’s in a label? A tiny sticker added to each food item that is cleaned, manufactured or preserved adds cost to every item of food that makes it to the farmer’s market and the grocery. Each added cost is passed on to the consumer. Each consumer has to make a decision if the group of groceries (produce, bread, beverages) is affordable enough to still be purchased. Working families and small grocers appear to be facing an overpriced future should Proposition 37 pass. The measure is drafted by a group of trial attorneys who have a reputation for using consumer protection rules to advance their own bottom line: large monetary judgments. The facts of this measure have led groups across the spectrum, including the State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Bay Area News Group, and the Oakland Tribune to announce opposition to the proposal.

Aubry Stone, President and Chief Executive Officer of the California Black Chamber of Commerce is concerned that Proposition 37 is an attack on businesses in a fragile economy and will hurt consumers, particularly low income ones. Various stakeholders have asked “will this ban specially prepared ethnic foods?” Will Soul Food establishments that market “natural” and “organic” products be forced to label their items or otherwise face litigation?

NAACP President Alice Huffman openly questions the need for such law, motives behind the initiative, and whether ethnic businesses (particularly small grocers and independent restaurants) will be injured by such arbitrary and non-scientific regulations. Equally of concern to Ms. Huffman are the cost impacts on poor and working families as the cost of foods rise for this new set of laws. Environmental groups argue that the labeling of foods that have been modified genetically is essential. The standard for the definition of genetic modification includes any chemical process employed in any part of the food production process, including cleaning, coloring, and altering sizes of foods grown from the ground. Even more impacted will be grain and seed producers. The cost of planting a private garden or industrial crops would appear to rise because of the added cost of requiring labels with specific notifications that all people who buy produce every week know personally.

This proposition appears to be a cost busting measure that will hurt farmers, working families, businesses and thus jobs. Respected health organizations have often noted that labeling foods that have had genetic modification have no basis in science because the definition of genetically modified is vague at best. Ethnic communities are likely to begin paying greater attention to this measure and researching the positions of venerable organizations like the NAACP.

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