On Nov. 6, California voters will decide whether to require some foods produced through the use of genetic engineering and sold within the state to carry a special label designation. Both proponents and opponents see it as a stepping stone to eventual broader labeling for genetically modified (GMO) applications in food production.

Last week, California’s largest daily newspaper, The Los Angeles Times, endorsed a “no” vote on the issue, calling the proposed law “problematic on a number of levels.” This past weekend, 34 daily newspapers from around the state came out with a similar message, encouraging Californians to vote “no” on Prop. 37. This has a majority of daily newspapers from across California opposing the proposition.

Most presented weekend editorials on the issue, most of which can be found here.

Specifically, the San Jose Mercury News, called out the following points:

  • "Proposition 37 should never have been placed on the ballot this fall."
  • "...there are real problems with this particular law."
  • "A badly drafted law with good intentions is still a bad law."

In its editorial, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, outlined these points:

  • "Clearly, this provision would create even more lawsuits. And who would this benefit? Lawyers."
  • "...this sloppily written measure is not the answer."
  • "...Prop. 37 could add to food costs for consumers, hurt small businesses and create yet another avenue for costly litigation."

That’s not to say that there aren’t some doubts about genetically engineered foods. The LA Times, argues that America “rushed headlong into producing (GM food) with lax federal oversight, and although many studies have been conducted over the last couple of decades, a 2009 editorial in Scientific American complained that too much of the research has been controlled by the companies that create the engineered products.”

But specific to the labeling requirement, the points out, “most of the burden for ensuring foods are properly labeled would fall not on producers but on retailers, which would have to get written statements from their suppliers verifying that there were no bioengineered ingredients – a paperwork mandate that could make it hard for mom-and-pop groceries to stay in business. Enforcement would largely occur through lawsuits brought by members of the public who suspect grocers of selling unlabeled food, a messy and potentially expensive way to bring about compliance.”

But the most important reason to reject Prop 37, according to the LA Times, is that there is “no rationale for singling out genetic engineering” as the agricultural practice for which labeling should be required. “So far,” the editor’s wrote, “there is little if any evidence that changing a plant’s or animal’s genes through bioengineering, rather than through selective breeding, is dangerous to the people who consume it. In fact, some foods have been engineered specifically to remove allergens from the original version.”

To be clear, not all foods are included in Prop. 37, there are exemptions for milk, restaurant food and some other products.

The ballot initiative also has garnered widespread attention because of the huge sums of money spent on advertising by both sides of the issue. In mid-September it was estimated that the two sides had already amassed more than $30 million to sway voters.

Prop 37 is opposed by a broad coalition of family farmers, scientists, doctors, business, labor, taxpayers and consumers. More information is available here