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Remembering Defeat to Defend Against Another

Posted on the 03 April 2013 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

The mandated labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods remains a pipe dream within US borders. But the topic continues to simmer on socio-political agendas. Washington State introduced labeling initiative I-522 to its state legislature earlier this year, previously label-opposed food giant Wal-Mart switched teams to start rallying for labeling at the national level in January, and the FDA debates approval of commercially-produced, unlabeled, GM salmon (the first GM animal to broach American plates)- a decision due later this month. With all this action keeping labeling-hopefuls afloat, it seems appropriate to remind ourselves why the most promising shot at a state-wide labeling initiative failed.

   California voters rejected their right to know which foods are genetically modified (GM) on November 6th, 2012. CA’s Prop 37, officially entitled The California Right To Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, failed to pass after a vote during the 2012 general election, despite the results from a poll that reflected a 90% majority favor of GM food labeling only months prior[i]. What happened to swing so many voters away from believing that mandated labeling of GM foods is a good thing?

   Prop 37 emerged as increasing public awareness of the issues surrounding GM foods and their impacts on human health and the environment stirred interest in a mandate on labeling. In accordance, Prop 37 was proposed and endorsed by the grassroots organizing efforts of health, environmental, and consumer groups in CA including many natural foods producers and retailers, food safety watchdogs, small agricultural projects, human health interest groups, natural health advocates, and non-GM activist groups. Primary supporters of the anti-Prop 37 campaign were comprised of major manufacturers and downstream users of GM foods, and mega chemical producers who produce the pesticides many GM crops have intended resistance against. Primary players in the anti-prop 37 campaign included Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer, Coca-Cola, DOW, Pepsi, and Syngenta: all of whom fit into one of the previously described categories. So let’s do a quick re-cap: every name on the anti-labeling lobby represented a party that makes money off of GM foods, while almost every name on the pro-labeling lobby represented a human rights/health organization, or environmental group. Hmm.

   Because the corporate drivers of the US food system tend to be financially powerful institutions, the Anti-37 campaign outspent their opposition by 8:1 in attempt to persuade voters against the bill. The final campaign expenditure tally reached $34.5 million in opposition of Prop 37, with the top three endorsements from Monsanto, Dupont, and BASF Plant Science equating to over $14 million. Pro-37 supporters raised only $4.1 million, with the top three endorsements from Mercola Health Resources, Nature’s Path Foods, and Fine Natural Food Products mustering up only slightly over $2 million. The 90% in favor of labeling surveyed in April 2012 declined steadily as the lobbying powers against the bill launched aggressive campaigns aimed at changing CA consumers’ minds.  In the month before the election, the anti-Prop 37 party was reported to have spent over $1 million per day on the public campaign, pulling the 67%[ii] in support of the bill in September down to the 48.5%[iii] that were defeated on election day. Media presence of the two campaigns in terms of volume and spatial pertinence to the public were said to closely reflect the disproportionate spending[iv].

   So, big surprise. The money won. While this piece doesn’t discuss the campaign strategies employed by the Anti-37 campaign that ultimately prevailed, the defeat of 37 serves as a powerful reminder that a public vote can easily be puppeteered by a rich business lobby. With chances to try for labeling on the horizon for many states, and perhaps the national level someday, it’s important to remember how influential mega-corporations can be when their profitable monopolies are at stake. When more money means more media presence during a campaign, the best thing for consumers to do is educate themselves. Get to know the debates, get to know the science behind GM foods, and get to know why so many people are aggressively rallying in favor of labeling. Gain the knowledge needed to take an informed stance on an incredibly important, and relevant, topic. Encourage others to do the same. And do this before corporations have the chance to overload you with calculated messages designed to protect their abilities to continue profiting off of public naivety.

[i] Mellman, Mark. “Majority Want More Labels On Food”, The Mellman Group. 17 April 2012. Accessed 5 Feb. 2013.

[ii] Schwartz, Ariel. “California Failed to Pass Its Genetically Modified Food Labeling Law. Now What?” Co.Exist: World Changing Ideas and Innovation. Dec. 2012. Accessed 1 Feb. 2013.

[iii] “California Proposition 37, Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food (2012)” Ballotpedia. Org. Accessed 15 Feb. 2013.,_Mandatory_Labeling_of_Genetically_Engineered_Food_(2012)

[iv]Walsh, Bryan. “Prop 37: Why California’s Ballot Initiative on GM Food is About Politics More Than Science” Time. Science & Space. 6 Nov. 2012. Accessed 29 Jan. 2013.

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