Every once in a while, California’s voters think they are doing the right thing, but the results do not turn out to be what was intended. This will be the case if they pass the food labeling ballot initiative. Supporters of this initiative recently submitted enough signatures to place it on the ballot this fall.
The trial lawyer who wrote this little gem would like it to be called the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act. This is likely what will appear on the ballot this fall and on the surface, it would appear to be right in California’s wheelhouse.
However, if an initiative is written by a trial lawyer you might want to take a closer look. I certainly understand that people want to know whether the food they buy contains genetically engineered ingredients, but there are two things about this initiative that make me wonder whether this is about knowing what is in your food or actually just a method of creating more ways for trial lawyers to sue.
First, if this initiative was about informing consumers about ingredients, why does it exempt milk, cheese, eggs, beef, pork, chicken, alcohol and food sold in restaurants? It seems strange that the author claims to want to prompt a serious discussion about food yet some of the products people are most concerned about are exempted.
Second, buried deep in the initiative under the “enforcement” section is one of the oldest trial lawyer tricks of the trade: a private right of action, which allows any person to file a lawsuit alleging a violation of this initiative. No government agency will enforce this initiative; it will be a group of lawyers. And what is even more stunning is that, in the words of the initiative, the individual who sues, “shall not be required to allege facts necessary to show, or tending to show, lack of adequate remedy at law, or to show, or tending to show, irreparable damage or loss, or to show, or tending to show, unique or special individual injury or damage.”
What does that exactly mean? It means lawyers can sue anyone selling food without showing that they even violated the law. Under the guise of informing consumers about their food, lawyers wrote this initiative to create a new way to sue small businesses, small family farmers and small grocers. Plaintiffs’ attorneys will use this law to file lawsuits and force these small businesses into quick settlements.
We have seen this already with predatory lawsuits alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We wanted more access and instead we have gotten more lawsuits. We saw this with Proposition 65. We wanted clean drinking water and instead we have gotten a bunch of trial lawyers shaking down small businesses for quick settlements.
The last thing California needs right now is more lawsuits. Our state is reeling from one of the worst economic periods in its history. Court funding has been slashed. This initiative means one thing: more lawsuits.
This is just another vehicle for greedy trial lawyers. You have a right to know…