Foes of Prop. 37 forced to alter ad
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, by Stacy Finz, October 5, 2012
Opponents of Proposition 37, which calls for labeling food made with genetically engineered ingredients, were forced this week to retool their latest television commercial after Stanford University objected to its implied endorsement.
The hullabaloo comes as opponents, supported by $35 million in contributions from the food industry and biochemical firms, ratchet up the media campaign to defeat the measure, which would require manufacturers of most foods to alert consumers with package labels that the product has or may be genetically modified. The initiative is leading in the polls by a 2-1 margin.
The Prop. 37 campaign and Stanford's legal division took issue with the latest ad, which began airing Oct. 2 and stars Dr. Henry Miller, a fellow at the university's Hoover Institution. They were concerned that the commercial, which was filmed on campus without the university's permission, made it look as if Stanford was taking a side in the debate.
"When we learned of the 'No on 37 ' commercial, we immediately asked to have it changed so it would be in compliance with Stanford policies," said Debra Zumwalt, the university's vice president and general counsel. "While everyone at Stanford is entitled to espouse whatever political view he or she may choose, we do not allow people affiliated with Stanford to take a political position in a way that could imply that it is Stanford's position.
"Stanford as an institution has taken no position on Proposition 37 and we do not take such positions," she said. "We asked that the 'No on 37' commercial be changed to accurately reflect that Dr. Miller was not speaking on behalf of Stanford by changing the information identifying him and by removing the Stanford background."
"We changed the background and the title card to make it crystal clear that Stanford, as an institution, has not taken a position, but rather it was the individual position of Henry Miller," she said.
In the commercial, Miller says Prop. 37 "makes no sense" because it requires only some food to be labeled while exempting others. "It just gives an indication of the arbitrary and completely illogical nature of this ill conceived proposition," he says.
The initiative has an exemption for meat, dairy and alcohol. Proponents say they made the exemptions to simplify the bill for voters. Beef and milk are not made with genetically modified ingredients, although the cows that produce them may be fed modified corn.
Besides the commercial involved in the Stanford flap, one of the opposition's radio ads maintains that the initiative would "ban thousands of common food products in California unless they are specially relabeled to meet complex new requirements and restrictions that would only exist in our state." But those products could still be sold if the manufacturer uses organic or nongenetically engineered ingredients.
The same radio spot contends that the law would cause grocery prices to go up $350 to $400 annually per household. That information is based on the opposition's own study; there is no independent data that corroborate that estimate. And the claim that Prop. 37 "would cost California taxpayers millions for more bureaucracy and red tape," overestimates the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office's annual cost of a few hundred thousand dollars to $1 million.