Evaluating Prop 37

Rick Frank posted about a UC Davis white paper on Prop 37, which provides detailed background on the ballot measure.  For those who want something that just lays out the issues concisely, I’d recommend Ezra Klein’s post on the subject. It’s brief and fair-minded to a fault — I’m sure partisans on the issue would emphasize the “to a fault” part.

Maybe it’s a reflection of the fact that I’m not a native Californian, but I’m skeptical about the use of popular initiatives to enact legislation. One reason is that the initiative process makes it difficult for laws to adjust to new evidence or experience with implementing a rule.  For example, Prop 37 provides: “This initiative may be amended by the Legislature, but only to further its intent and purpose, by a statute passed by a two-thirds vote in each house.”  But what if we find out later that the labeling requirement is counterproductive or if the science later shows that GMOs don’t pose a risk? It seems unwise to tie the legislature’s hands this way, especially in an area where the science could change quickly.

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Reader Comments

4 Replies to “Evaluating Prop 37”

  1. I don’t really disagree with the anti-initiative sentiment.

    But I’m a scientist against GMO food who believes it doesn’t pose much if any risk (at the moment) to the consumer. The big GMO products are herbicide resistant crops. GMO means widespread application of herbicides substituting for tilling. Crops that were never sprayed with herbicide before (i.e. alfalfa) are now going to be dominated by herbicide resistant GMO varieties and millions more acres that have never been sprayed before are going to be sprayed with herbicide. This has an impact on farmers, workers, neighboring wildlands, creeks, organic farms. There are possible benefits — less plowing, less soil loss, perhaps less CO2 emissions (although chemical manufacturing has to be considered in the equation). But those benefits are probably transient. The application of herbicide like this is the equivalent of giving everyone on the planet penicillin. Herbicide resistant weeds are popping up everywhere and spreading and in a few years they’ll have to change tactics again. Perhaps a new variety of GMO corn that’s resistant to two herbicides and then you get the farmland drenched in two chemicals instead of one. Or tilling and two chemicals.

    Chemical farming is short-sighted and profit oriented. Somebody makes money off all the newly patented chemical coctails and we get to learn what the effects are 20 years later when the science is in. It’s not sustainable and it’s not good for the land.

  2. I don’t really disagree with the anti-initiative sentiment.

    But I’m a scientist against GMO food who believes it doesn’t pose much if any risk (at the moment) to the consumer. The big GMO products are herbicide resistant crops. GMO means widespread application of herbicides substituting for tilling. Crops that were never sprayed with herbicide before (i.e. alfalfa) are now going to be dominated by herbicide resistant GMO varieties and millions more acres that have never been sprayed before are going to be sprayed with herbicide. This has an impact on farmers, workers, neighboring wildlands, creeks, organic farms. There are possible benefits — less plowing, less soil loss, perhaps less CO2 emissions (although chemical manufacturing has to be considered in the equation). But those benefits are probably transient. The application of herbicide like this is the equivalent of giving everyone on the planet penicillin. Herbicide resistant weeds are popping up everywhere and spreading and in a few years they’ll have to change tactics again. Perhaps a new variety of GMO corn that’s resistant to two herbicides and then you get the farmland drenched in two chemicals instead of one. Or tilling and two chemicals.

    Chemical farming is short-sighted and profit oriented. Somebody makes money off all the newly patented chemical coctails and we get to learn what the effects are 20 years later when the science is in. It’s not sustainable and it’s not good for the land.

  3. Do you all agree with the analogue arguments saying Prop-65 is “essentially useless”? There’s a lot that should be corrected (generic labeling on store fronts or cars that don’t designate the chemical), but there are also a lot of things that California consumers don’t see because it’s not sold in California anymore (foods/cosmetics). And I’d argue that the warnings on products used by workers (hair salons, plumbers, carpenters) probably do lead to less exposure and better practice. Information is a good thing if it’s put out in a sensible manner.

  4. Do you all agree with the analogue arguments saying Prop-65 is “essentially useless”? There’s a lot that should be corrected (generic labeling on store fronts or cars that don’t designate the chemical), but there are also a lot of things that California consumers don’t see because it’s not sold in California anymore (foods/cosmetics). And I’d argue that the warnings on products used by workers (hair salons, plumbers, carpenters) probably do lead to less exposure and better practice. Information is a good thing if it’s put out in a sensible manner.

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About Dan

Dan Farber

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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