By Carol Reimer Williams, MS, RDN
The theory that additional government regulation and oversight will improve the lives of Californians can have no better test than a review of a public health initiative known as Prop 65.
The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, California’s Proposition 65, was a political manipulation hatched and financed by political strategist and then state assemblyman, Tom Hayden (D). It was intended to lure liberal voters to the polls to oust the Republican incumbent governor, George Deukmejian, who had a weak record on public health issues. California’s public health professions never had their hands in this proposition.
In the 1986 political fall-out, the democratic candidate lost, and no one had read the fine-print in the newly passed California Prop 65. Just as planned, the unsuspecting public, and especially those who leaned left, had voted in favor of Prop 65 requiring that companies who sell consumables in California adhere to new labeling requirements alerting the public to the presence of carcinogens and/or birth defect-causing chemicals.
In the 35 years that have ensued, Californians have grown numb to the barrage of Prop 65 labels whose lofty goals were to alert the public of the possible presence of over 900 substances that Prop 65 surveils. Many companies have become very creative in finding ways to avoid needing to provide Prop 65 labeling. Who knew that a serving of salsa is one teaspoon? In making this calculated reduction in serving size, the corresponding amounts of potential carcinogens are now negligible. Perhaps the salsa “remedy” has been applied to the subgroup of over 300 Prop 65 chemicals that meet the Safe Harbor criteria. Per the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment website, one-third of the harmful chemicals monitored by Prop 65 allegedly present a level of toxicity that does not require a Prop 65 warning because a maximum allowable dose was not exceeded. This is hardly a Safe Harbor for the consumer.
A small group of about six shrewd southern California lawyers have repeatedly profited significantly by suing small companies who may or may not have failed to comply with Prop 65. To continue to do business in California, these targeted companies choose to cut their losses and agree to sizeable civil settlements. The attorneys can pocket 25% or more of the money these legal actions bring. Due to its poor design, Prop 65 is a get-rich-quick scheme for lawyers and a reason for companies to finagle a work-around to feign compliance. The ubiquitous nature of the Prop 65 signs and labels as well as their vague messaging does not send that intended health message of grave concern. The citizenry of California is not getting the protection that Prop 65 promised.
Attorney and State District 49 Assemblyman, Ed Chau (D), plans to repair Prop 65 in response to the negative impact that the proposition—in its current state—has had on Asian businesses in his district. Under the guise of protecting business owners, Chau’s fix via AB 693 would now give the state more judicial oversight as well as a slice of the financial “exploitation pie.” Instead of correcting the profiteering and duplicity plaguing Prop 65, his plans will just make things worse. Chau has a consistent business-adverse voting record, including his support for anti-police/pro-criminal bills.
Prop 65 has been a political football from the very beginning, that only gives lip service to public health and consumer safety. While ineffective at its original goals, it has done very well in wasting tax dollars in the pursuit of “compliance” and diverting business resources away from simply operating in the State. Consumers and taxpayers are literally paying for useless labels and similarly acting State officials. This is more government without any actual benefit to the people it serves, and if anything, is the proof why we should have less of it.