State Sen. Noreen Evans' GMO food-labeling bill clears state Senate committee (w/video)

Wednesday's hearing was a preview of the obstacles SB 1381 will have to overcome if it has any chance of landing on the governor's desk.

Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, the committee's chairman, voted against the bill, as did vice-chairman Sen. Joel Anderson, R-San Diego.

Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, huddled with Evans at the dais for several minutes before Wolk cast the final vote sending the bill out of committee by the narrowest of margins. Evans also voted for the bill as a member of the health committee. The bill needed five votes to clear the panel.

Wolk said she still has concerns that provisions in the bill allowing people to sue for alleged violations of the labeling law and to collect attorney's fees could lead to "mischief."

She said she and Evans agreed to "continue the conversation on fees and costs."

In what some observers called an unusual move, the Senate's Rules Committee assigned the GMO bill to three different committees. It is now set to be heard by the Senate's Judiciary and Agriculture committees.

Teala Schaff, a spokeswoman for Evans, called the triple referral "incredibly rare," saying it likely reflects lobbying efforts by those who are against the proposed legislation.

Representatives of California's food and farming industries were present Wednesday to denounce the bill, which they contend would expose retailers and farmers to litigation by placing the onus of confirming whether products contain genetically-engineered organisms on them.

"The ultimate liability rests with us," said Jamie Johansson, a member of the Butte County Farm Bureau.

Critics also contend there's no scientific proof that genetically altered organisms pose a threat to humans.

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