Food Labeling Law: Healthy for Consumers or Trial Lawyers?
Way out West, on the nation's Left coast, a battle joining trial lawyers, liberals and "natural healthers" determined to pass a controversial ballot proposition this November is underway.
California ballot Proposition 37 would mandate the labeling of certain foods -- containing genetically-modified (GM) ingredients and, opponents say that due to poor legal drafting, potentially even some processed foods that are GM-free -- as GM foods or foods that "may" contain GM ingredients.
Critics charge that it would also be a boon to trial lawyers, who could sue grocery stores for any alleged mistakes in labeling, and that it ignores broad scientific consensus that labeling is not needed. In addition, the proposition fails to require the labeling of dairy products, meat produced from animals fed or injected with GM products, alcohol, and food served in restaurants (which opponents say makes any benefit supposedly offered by the proposition minimal to nonexistent).
But attracting as much controversy as the content of the proposition itself is the list of its backers.
James Wheaton, a California attorney famous for his pursuit of lawsuits under California's notorious Proposition 65, which since 1986 has required the labeling of a wide array of everyday consumer products ranging from chicken to Christmas lights in a manner that suggests they cause cancer and which has acted as a boon for trial lawyers including Wheaton himself, reportedly helped write Proposition 37.
Wheaton claimed, as of this spring, that he hadn't considered whether or not to sue under Proposition 37, if it makes it onto the books.
Nonetheless, Proposition 37 appears to be attracting some significant support from individuals who appear to be part of Wheaton's circle.
Records show that Michelle Lerach, the wife of trial attorney Bill Lerach who opponents of the proposition say conducted litigation at Wheaton's direction, has donated $25,000 to the "Yes on 37" effort. In addition, one Mary Blasy, who appears to have been employed by Lerach's firm, has donated $5,000.
That is small fry, however, compared to Dr. Joseph Mercola, a Chicago-area doctor who has reportedly funneled $1.1 million into putting Proposition 37 on the books thus far.
Mercola, who has allegedly claimed that "chemotherapy kills rather than cures children with cancer," cast skepticism on mammograms, and appeared to claim that eggplant cures cancer, also appears to be close to Proposition 37's founding organizer, one Pamm Larry.
Meanwhile, Proposition 37 has the support of prominent liberals including Sen. Barbara Boxer, Rep. Maxine Waters, Roseanne Barr, the band Maroon 5 and various California-based Occupy organizations.
This veritable who's who has helped propel the proposition forward, despite an increasing amount of scrutiny of its content from even mainstream, left-of-center Californian quarters that has raised serious questions about its merits.
Whether such questions will bring the drive to put proposition 37 on the books to a halt remains to be seen, however.