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Food safety might come up in handful of state ballot measures

State and local ballot issues involving food and agriculture sometimes push food safety onto the political stage. Not much of that is likely in 2018, however, because this year only a handful of states are going to be voting on food or agricultural measures.

According to Ballotpedia, the nonpartisan online political encyclopedia, Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington are the only states where food and agricultural related measures may reach the November ballot.

Two initiative petitions are being circulated in Arizona- one involving agricultural chemicals and the other concerning industrial hemp. Both have until July 5 to turn in at least 150,642 valid signatures required to make the ballot.

The first Arizona initiative would require the state’s Associate Director of Agriculture to perform health risk assessments and analysis on agricultural pesticides to determine their impact on humans, domestic animals, and agricultural pollinators. The use of neonicotinoid insecticides would be suspended unless and until the Associate Director finds they do not have any unreasonable adverse effects on pollinators. The Associate Director would also be tasked with the long-term viability of native bees.

The second possible Arizona ballot measure would legalize the cultivation, possession, processing, selling and buying of industrial hemp containing no more than 0.4 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the state. The group Hemp Economy filed the initiative petition. The group was prompted by the Jan. 4, 2018 directive by Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an earlier federal policy that deprioritized federal marijuana laws.

The state initiative may be unnecessary because the 2018 Farm Bill, which was just overwhelmingly approved by the Senate, makes hemp legal in all 50 states. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, is behind hemp legalization even making it eligible for federal crop insurance.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla on June 22 qualified the California Farm Animal Confinement Initiative for the November ballot with almost one-half million valid signatures.

This initiative would rewrite California’s Proposition 2, adopted in 2008 with a delayed effective enforcement date of 2015. Prop 2 says that when confining veal, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens the must have sufficient room to stand up, turn around, lie down and fully extend their limbs.

The 2018 initiative replaces that Prop 2 guidance with specific square feet requirements– a calf gets 43 square feet, a breeding pig 24 square feet, and a laying hen 1 square foot of usable floor space.

Prop 2 left enforcement to local law enforcement, but the 2018 initiative puts the California Department of Food and Agriculture and California Department of Public Health in charge of implementation. It allows fines of $1,000 for violations, which are considered misdemeanors.

Federal courts have ruled California may impose its animal confinement regulations on out-of-state producers selling agricultural products in California. Those decisions will likely generate interest in the 2018 measure outside of the Golden State.

The National Pork Producers Council and the Association of California Egg Farmers oppose the initiative. The Humane Society of the United States funded two-thirds of the $3 million campaign to qualify the initiative.

Not all animal activists, however, are on board. The Humane Farming Association (HFA) has formed Californians Against Cruelty, Cages, and Fraud to also oppose the initiative. By late June, that committee raised $550,000.

If adopted, the new enforcement date would be 2021.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, an initiative petition is out for labeling genetically modified organisms or GMO’s in food. Matthew A. Callaway and Jonathan Leddy submitted the initiative on Feb. 21, 2018 and they have until Aug. 6, 2018, to gather 98,492 valid signatures.

In 2014, Colorado voted 65 percent to 35 percent against mandatory GMO labeling. This re-retry, if successful, would require foods with GMO ingredients to be labeled after July 1, 2020. It would put Colorado in conflict with the federal law adopted by Congress in 2016 to preempt the issue from the states.

Voters in the Pacific Northwest States of Oregon and Washington will be voting on measures that ban state and local taxes on groceries. Such a ban in Oregon requires amending the Constitution

Oregon’s Secretary of State on June 18 found enough valid signatures were turned in by proponents of the tax issue. If adopted, it will retroactively prohibit any taxes, fees, or assessments on groceries that were adopted after Oct. 1, 2017.

By definition, the initiative prevents local governments from taxing soda or sugary beverages. Major grocery chains active in Oregon are among the top contributors to “Yes! Keep our Groceries Tax Free.

Oregon does not have a state sales tax, but there is a potential for local governments to impose their own.

Across the Columbia River in Washington State, voters will likely be asked to vote on a measure that would prohibit sales and use taxes on groceries, including food, bottled water, carbonated beverages, soft drinks and their ingredients.

Backers have until July 6 to submit 259,622 valid signatures to qualify Measure No. 1635, It was submitted back on March 26 by Tim Eyman, a frequent petition filer.

The American Beverage Association, Washington Farm Bureau, Washington Food, and Beverage Association, the Korean-American Grocer’s Association, and the Joint Council of Teamsters No. 28 have combined under a “Yes! Affordable Groceries” committee. It has raised at least $3 million.

The American Heart Association, Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition and the Anti-Hunger and Nutrition Coalition have challenged the ballot title, arguing it is really a measure to prevent the adoption of soda taxes like Seattle’s.

Initiative Measure No. 1588 also has a July 6 deadline to submit enough valid signatures in Washington State. That measure would require either taxation or license for any cultivation, possession, consumption or distribution of any plants, fungi, or cacti “in their holistic or fermented form.”

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