California — where some say state ballot initiatives are a substitute for warfare — may soon decide whether genetically engineered food should be labeled.


An initiative to require GMO labeling will be on the California ballot Nov. 6 if, as it now appears, the Right-to-Know campaign obtained enough petition signatures.

The campaign has four rallies planned Wednesday in Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Francisco to unveil the signatures before turning over the petitions to election officials for qualification.

If adopted by voters, the measure would require food manufacturers to identify genetically engineered ingredients on the labels of food products sold in California.  Supporters predict manufacturers would avoid the cost of dual labeling by just using the California packaging throughout the U.S.

It’s also possible the dual-labeling issue could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, where GMO labeling might be struck down, as was the recent California mandate on euthanizing non-ambulatory, or “downer,” cows.

The Right-to-Know campaign says it collected at least 850,000 and perhaps as many as 1 million  signatures by the April 22 deadline  Since then, it has worked on required verification procedures.

Qualifying for ballot placement in California requires just over a half million valid signatures.  If the Right to Know campaign has 850,000 signatures in hand, its initiative should easily make the Nov. 6 ballot.

Ballot rules, however, are not simple.

California uses both random sample and full check methods to verify signatures. Signature gathers must obtain 110 percent of the required amount to qualify for random check.

Raw totals under random check are due today (May 2).  Counties then certify the number to the Secretary of State, who has until June 28 to determine if enough valid signatures have been collected.

Just getting enough petition signatures, however, is a huge milestone in a California ballot initiative effort.

Since 2010, ballot access has cost most successful petitions $2- to $3 million. Most of that money goes to petition firms who charge to gather signatures.

The Committee for the Right to Know, which reports raising $27,472 through March 31, has  instead relied on volunteers described as “concerned mothers, farmers, fishermen, business leaders, students and volunteer leaders.”

If the measure makes the ballot and is approved in November,  “Californians will join citizens of over 40 countries including all of Europe, Japan and even China who have the right to know they are eating food containing genetically engineered ingredients, in order to make informed choices about what they eat and feed their children,” says campaign spokeswoman Stacy Malkan.

With the petition task accomplished, the campaign is going to turn its attention to fund raising with the goal of raising $1 million during the month. However, that amount is a drop in the proverbial bucket in California.  Total spending in a contested California initiative can easily exceed $10 million in some of the nation’s most expensive media markets.