For the folks at California Right to Know, LabelGMOS, and Organic Consumers, the disappointment after a Prop. 37 defeat was palpable. The story was much the same for the 3,800 businesses, nonprofits, and stakeholders that worked tirelessly to pass the measure. But in the face of a 6 to 1 spending machine, the Goliath pulled out a victory.
Proposition 37 was a California ballot initiative that would have required labeling on raw or processed food made with GMOs while prohibiting labeling or advertising of food as "natural" when it was made with GMOs.
It would have armed consumers with the knowledge to make their own decisions about the foods they choose both from a health and environmental perspective. Some 60 to 70 percent of processed foods found in grocery stores contain GMO ingredients. GMO crops are often treated with an onslaught of pesticides, contaminating our soil and creating dead zones.
“The opposition used every trick in the book to mislead consumers,” said Ronnie Cummins, founder and director of Organic Consumers Association, in a press call yesterday. “They were convinced that if they got the right to know they would have to pay for it."
According to California Right to Know, Prop. 37 would have no cost impact on consumers or food producers.
With 100 percent of California precincts reporting, Prop. 37 was rejected by six percentage points. It would have been the first state to pass such legislation.
The Right Side of History
The movement will now focus its energies on Washington where it already has half the signatures needed for a similar ballot initiative. And from there Oregon is the next target where activists are on the ground considering working toward a ballot initiative in either 2013 or 2014.
The Financial Goliath
But the overarching problem is still present--a story about being outspent, outgunned, and outmaneuvered by a biotechnology industry bent on keeping labeling out of the face of the American consumer.
“$50 million can spread a lot of misinformation and we didn’t have the resources to return their fire,” said Cummins.
Nineteen states have failed to pass labeling laws largely out of fear of unending lawsuits from Monsanto and others or simply by being outspent by the industry as a whole. But even still, activists believe that working on the state level will be more effective because bills in Congress haven’t drummed up enough support either. Educating the public on the truth of the issue seems their best weapon.
Not only is labeling an issue, but making sure that consumers understand the $50 million natural foods market is nothing more than a chic disguise clothing genetically modified foods.
The larger issue becomes whether a multinational corporation can control the food system in a way that’s unprecedented in other parts of the world. According to California Right to Know, "[f]ifty countries around the world—representing more than 40% of the world’s population---already require GMO labeling, including all of Europe, Japan, India and China."