October 10, 2012—California–The Business Journal reports that the argument between growers and distributors is growing over genetically transformed foods as the California legislature considers a bill that would inform consumers if their food has been scientifically altered.

Genetically engineered food is nothing new. Plants have been infused with desirable genes since the technology became widely available in the mid-1990s.  However, with the current focus on “organic” or “natural” foods, organic growers argue that consumers have a right to know if their food is being modified.  Proposition 37 would require processors to label their products to indicate genetic alteration and would prohibit the use of the word “natural” on such products.

Pros and Cons of Proposition 37

The measure is widely supported by organic farmers, who are prohibited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture from using synthetic seeds or pesticides.  The battle has long been raging between organic farmers and their non-organic neighbors, whose use of pesticides may affect seeds and pollen that can then contaminate nearby organic crops.   Supporters of the bill cite fears about genetically-altered food such as risk of cancer and birth defects.

However, opponents say there is no proof of such a risk. In fact, they applaud GE crops for bringing costs down and making wholesome food available to the population at a reasonable cost.  They believe that if the proposition is passed, organic foods may become the problem because of germs and insects that are not killed by regular pesticides and could infect those who ingest these foods.

The Food and Drug Administration

The FDA routinely regulates or deregulates crops that can be grown in the United States.  For example, the FDA recently deregulated a genetically-altered strain of alfalfa and approved it for growth in California.  However, the FDA has been reluctant to get involved in the organic argument inherent in Proposition 37, possibly in light of opposition by major companies such as Monsanto and DuPont, who provide much of the research that goes into genetically-altered seeds and plants.

Impact on Lawsuits in California

One of the strongest arguments made against Proposition 37 is that it would open the door to innumerable lawsuits regarding labeling on food.  Theoretically, any company that did not have the proper labeling could be sued for product defects if the food caused allergies or other health problems.

However, proponents of the bill argue that people have the right to know what they are eating and make informed choices about their food consumption.  They argue that the bill would actually reduce grounds for lawsuits since people who bought food without “organic” or “natural” packaging would know that the food might contain genetically-altered material.

Personal injury attorneys should keep a close watch on the progress of Proposition 37 and its possible repercussions for product defect lawsuits.