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Proposition 37 May Be Down, but the Fight for GMO Foods Labeling Is Not Out

  • Written by  Laura Vladimirova
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Do you want the right to complete information about what’s in your food? Do you want the right to complete information about what’s in your food?


Food activists all over the world waited with bated breath as the votes for California's Proposition 37, a GMO labeling initiative, were counted on election night. As states across the country began to celebrate gay marriage initiatives and other legal precedents, it slowly became clear: Proposition 37 did not pass. For those who voted for it and worked tirelessly to promote it, understanding why it failed was critical.

Proposition 37 would have required companies that sell genetically modified foods to label it as such. It also would have banned them from “green-washing” their foods with labels declaring the food to be “natural.”

Europe, Japan, India, China, and 56 other countries all label their food products more rigorously than America. In the United States, something like 70 percent of our foods contain GMO modifications, mostly unbeknownst to us. The labeling practice would have given shoppers a choice between altered foods or otherwise. For many, this choice would not only have meant avoiding potential health risks, it would have also meant taking a stand against Big Ag and Big Business, the environment's greatest villains.

Prop 37 was defeated by six points (53 percent – 47 percent). Had Prop 37 passed, it would have been the first of its kind in all of the United States. Groups like YES on 37 California Right to Know, LabelGMOS, and Organic Consumers hoped it may have been the first domino to fall, causing a whole system to succumb sooner or later.

Big Business also used scare tactics, fake endorsements, and misleading information to win over voters.

The answer as to why it failed has many facets, much like the story of GMO foods. The most immediate answer is that the little guys who favored GMO labeling were outmatched from the onset.

Stacy Malkan, Media Director for Yes on 37, said, "I think this election was largely a story of money. We didn't have the funds to compete."

This is a valid point. Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Kraft, and dozens of other major players donated big money to help defeat the measure. The counter group to Propositon 37, No on 37, spent $46 million campaigning against the initiative. The opposition spent far more than that.

Big Business also used scare tactics, fake endorsements, and misleading information to win over voters. No on 37's biggest claim was that if foods were labeled, consumers would spend a significant amount more on food bills. Independent assessors, as well as the calculated budgets from Europe’s genetically modified labeling initiatives show that the passing of Proposition 37 would not have cost shoppers or food manufacturers anything extra.

Another criticism of the legislation was that the writing was broad, vague, and included too many exceptions. For instance, farm animals that feed on GMO do not have to be labeled genetically modified when sold as meat. For some voters, this was confusing. For those bent on squashing the labeling legislation, this was a tool for presenting skewed information.

Sure, the initiative could have been more transparent, clearer for voters and included a clause to label livestock that fed on GMO foods. However, the plain truth is that there are no genetically modified animals. Not yet anyway. And, Malkan, who helped write the document, didn’t want to jump too far ahead.

The writing was modeled on the European GMO labeling initiative, which has been in action for several years now.

“Even with cows eating GM feed, that exemption is common around the world,” Malkan said. “We didn’t think it made sense for California to leapfrog over Europe, not when we are already playing 15 years of catch-up.”

There are a great many hurdles to be conquered down the line for food justice activists, and no one is denying that. Instead, those associated with the movement are forging ahead and asking, “What’s next?”

"We won a moral victory. We’ve exposed this issue nationally,” said Dave Murphy, co-chair of Yes on 37 California Right to Know campaign and founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!.”

Indeed, GMO labeling can never be shoved into the dark again. No amount of money will hide the truths that those who dare to fight against Big Agra have made public.

For those in the movement, the focus is on Washington, where a similar ballot initiative has taken shape. Also there will be a push in Oregon, where the activists want a ballot measure to be ready by 2013 or 2014. Then, plans are to go eastward and work in Connecticut and Vermont.

Tobacco was revealed to be detrimental in 1950, and it took nearly 50 years to really change the laws, taxes, advertising, and language associated with tobacco sales. And yet, these victories still face setbacks now and again. Not to mention that anti-tobacco activists didn’t have the internet. Every movement must start somewhere; the liberation of our hijacked food has started here and it will never turn back.

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Apparently too few California voters found Bill Maher and Dave Matthews convincing enough to vote yes on 37.
Last modified on Thursday, 15 November 2012 16:21

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