California Grocers Association President Ronald K. Fong testified before a California Legislative Joint Informational Hearing on Thursday, telling legislators that a controversial initiative on the November ballot would create a litigation nightmare for grocery retailers if approved by voters.
In testimony before the Senate Committee and the Assembly Committee on Agriculture, Fong said Proposition 37, which would require labeling of genetically engineered food, isn’t “really about the ‘right to know,’ but is about the ‘right to sue.’ And when it is time to sue, grocery retailers will be on the front line.”
“When lawsuits are filed, the trial lawyers might not be able to figure out who makes Cheerios,” Fong said, “but they sure as heck will know where they bought them.”
Fong told the Joint Hearing that Proposition 37 was written by a trial lawyer who helped write California’s Proposition 65 and whose organization has reaped millions of dollars from suing California businesses under the provisions of that proposition. Prop. 37 allows any private citizen, including attorneys, to sue, claiming a food company, grocer or farmer has violated the labeling provisions. He called it a “lose-lose” situation, with consumers having to pay higher grocery and taxpayer costs.
“In the last two decades, Prop. 65 has been abused by plaintiffs’ lawyers seeking to shakedown grocers into paying huge settlements that benefit only lawyers,” Fong said.
Quoting the California Legislative Analyst, Fong said, “Retailers such as grocery stores would be primarily responsible for complying with the measure by ensuring that their food products are correctly labeled.”
“That means grocers would be responsible for a paper trail on every ingredient of every food product we sell,” he told legislators. “That’s potentially hundreds of thousands of products requiring paperwork down to the seed level.”
Fong also addressed the initiative’s numerous loopholes and exemptions.
Citing a number of food products exempted from the proposition, Fong asked, “If the proponents of Prop. 37 were so concerned about our “right to know” or health, why would they exempt two-thirds of the food we eat every day?”
Fong joined Jamie Johansson, California Farm Bureau Federation and Kent Bradford, Seed Biotechnology Center, UC-Davis, in testifying in opposition to the controversial initiative.