Proposition 37: Genetically Engineered Foods. Labeling.

The Question

Should labeling be required on foods containing genetically modified ingredients when such foods (whether raw or processed, plant or animal) are offered for sale to consumers in California?

The Situation

According to some estimates, 40% to 70% of the foods currently for sale in California contain some genetically modified (GM) ingredients, sometimes referred to as genetically engineered (GE) ingredients or genetically modified organisms (GMO). Genetic modification changes (alters) an organism's genome, or hereditary information, in order to produce some desired change in that organism’s characteristics.  For example, it may improve a plant’s resistance to pests, or allow it to withstand the use of pesticides.

No existing law regulates GE foods or requires food producers to identify foods produced through genetic engineering.

The Proposal

Proposition 37 would change state law to require specific kinds of disclosure regarding genetically modified foods. It would require the labeling of raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if it is made wholly or partially from plants or animals with altered genetic material. It would also prohibit the labeling or advertising of genetically altered food as “natural.” Foods made from animals that are not genetically engineered, but are given genetically engineered feed would be exempted from Prop 37. Foods sold in restaurants and alcoholic beverages would also be exempt. Foods that are certified organic are exempt from Prop 37, as they are not legally allowed to contain any genetically altered ingredients.

The State Department of Public Health, which regulates the safety and labeling of foods, would develop the regulations necessary to put Prop 37 into effect.  Any state or local official or private individual would be allowed to sue for violation of the labeling provisions.

Fiscal Effect

The fiscal effects are unknown, but could potentially increase state administrative costs up to one million dollars annually to monitor compliance with the disclosure requirements specified in the measure.

A YES Vote Means

Genetically engineered foods sold in California would have to be specifically labeled as being genetically engineered.


A NO Vote Means

Genetically engineered foods sold in California would continue not to have specific labeling requirements.

Supporters Say

  • Genetic engineering of plants and animals often causes unintended consequences and can lead to adverse health and/or environmental effects.
  • It would cost food producers very little to change their labels so that consumers could make informed decisions.  

Opponents Say

  • The regulation would require extra monitoring of foods and would open the door to frivolous lawsuits.
  • Food producers unwilling or unable to modify their packaging would be forced to switch to higher-priced, non-genetically modified ingredients, potentially making food more expensive.