In Perspective: Prop 37 defeated; proponents undeterred

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Colleen Scherer Although many in the agriculture industry considered the defeat of Proposition 37 in California a success for the industry, proponents of the law did not take the loss well. Proposition 37 would have required all food items to be labeled if they contained genetically modified organisms.

GM labeling proponents appeared shocked by the outcome of the voting, but don’t let their disappointment convince you the issue is dead. They have new initiatives in the works.

If California’s proposition 37 had passed, it would have been the GM labeling crowd’s biggest win to getting GM foods labeled in the United States. Without a state victory, the push to get foods labeled isn’t exactly on the back burner.

The setback is not deterring the anti-GMO crowd. It is moving forward, just on a different scale. In California, one county passed an initiative to ban the growing of GMO crops. The initiative makes it illegal in San Juan County to “propagate, cultivate, raise or grow plants, animals and other organisms which have been genetically modified.” The only way they can be grown is if they are grown by health care providers and researchers.

But the main goal of the anti-GMO movement is still to get food companies to label products that contain GMOs. To achieve that goal, these activists have a three-pronged approach.

In order to get companies to label foods that contain GMOs they still need to win an initiative in one state. Now that California’s Proposition 37 failed, the first prong of their strategy has moved to Oregon and Washington state by planning new state initiatives that would require labeling of GMOs.

Their second prong strategy is to focus on Washington, D.C., and the Food and Drug Administration. They’ve already announced the intention to force FDA to label GM foods by threatening a federal lawsuit. The Center for Food Safety filed a petition October 2011 as part of its strategy to bring a federal lawsuit against FDA. Also, with President Barack Obama’s re-election, supporters of GM labeling expect support from the president because they view him as being supportive of labeling.

On a national consumer focus, the activists have launched a national coalition called GMO Inside that advocates for increased consumer awareness of GMOs in foods. The coalition launched the week before Thanksgiving, one of the biggest food holidays in the United States. GMO Inside started by “offering tips and suggestions for consumers on how to remove unwanted GMOs from their holiday feasts.”

This new coalition is composed of the following groups and individual who are leading its approach: Food Democracy Now!, Green America, Institute for Responsible Technology, Nature’s Path Organic Foods, Nutiva and Vani Hari, a food activist writer and a two time elected North Carolina delegate, endorsed by President Obama.

The anti-GMO groups have blamed Monsanto and the other companies and organizations that raised funds to defeat Prop 37 as bullies who want to control the market. However, what the activists don’t explain is that Prop 37’s wording was confusing. The proposition, as written, would have required any processed food to use the words “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.” The wording does not make it clear to consumers if the products contained GMOs, which was the goal the activists claimed they wanted to achieve.

In the end, consumers were not gaining what they were told they would. This could have opened up a plethora of potential lawsuits, which would have bogged down the legal system.

However, despite the loss in California, the activists will continue to push forward with lawsuits, plus state and national initiatives. Now is not the time for the industry to let down its guard.

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Organic Connections    
December, 07, 2012 at 01:31 PM

The "food industry" has got to wake up to the fact that consumer preference ultimately rules. Nearly 6 million people voted for Prop 37. The fact that Monsanto and partners paid $45 million to scare voters to kill it, is actually an unsustainable position. Overriding consumer sentiment with massive propaganda does not work in the long run. You can try and brand these folks as anti-science, but we both know that's a fallacy as well. The Prop 37 experience has actually massively expanded and galvanized the food movement in ways the industry is only beginning to realize. Witness the massive anti-gmo sentiment being leveled at Cheerios on Facebook.

Nancy Brown    
Minnesota  |  December, 07, 2012 at 07:30 PM

Nine out of ten Americans want labeling. In a democracy uncorrupted by powerful multi-national corporations, labeling would already be the law. What the biotech and pesticide companies have been doing is hurting people, hurting farmers, and hurting our land. We are on the side of transparency and openness. Citizens, farmers, health advocates, and others are now working in 32 states to do what the federal government has failed to do: let us know what's in the food we're eating. We're all busy people with work, families, volunteer commitments--we don't want to have to fight for this right. Get on the right side of history and start labeling and save us all this trouble! : )

geoffrey saign    
st paul  |  December, 08, 2012 at 07:56 AM

We deserve to know what's in our food! Monsanto's 3 month studies of GMOs are a joke. All real research points to major health risks and environmental problems with GMOs. 60 countries label, including China and Russia. The EPA and FDA and past presidencies have been owned by Monsanto, in that major decision makers were past Monsanto employees ala Michael Taylor, the food czar. The only think GMOs do now, is make money for Monsanto. They hurt everyone and everything else. All polls state 90% of Americans want labeling, but the CA Prop37 failed, because of untruthful advertising that scared voters it would be expensive, which is nonsense. This issue won't go away, because a monoculture of GMOs puts the food security of the planet in jeopardy--who would sit still for that?!

Pauline Wahlquist    
Minnesota  |  December, 08, 2012 at 11:24 AM

Everyday that goes by with Monsanto developing and releasing more of these GMOs is another dollar in their pocket and a nail in the coffin of the people that eat this stuff. We do not know the long term ramifications that these genes will have on man, animals or nature. Just suppose, for example, that the terminator gene migrates to other wild plants or to something like alfalfa. We just do not know because the kind of long term science that should have been done has not happened and will not happen if it is left up to Monsanto. It really seems ironic to me that Russia and China, and many other countries, are more progressive on this issue than the United States.

Carol Spearman    
Minnesota  |  December, 09, 2012 at 11:32 AM

We should be joined in this fight for labeling by all of the health care providers in the nation. The ongoing cost of people consuming GMO food becomes clearer everyday. If it isn't labeling, consumers just don't know how much they are taking in at every meal of the day. Insurance companies should also be supporting this effort - they have a great deal to gain. We have a premature birth rate in the US that is alike to Africa, not Europe. Why isn't anyone looking at this and the connections to GMO's.

Roger Pelizzari    
USA  |  December, 09, 2012 at 04:05 PM

Election fraud in California Right now the votes for Prop 37 to label genetically engineered foods are still being counted. On Tuesday morning, Dec 4th, Prop 37 hit 6,004,628 votes on the California Secretary of State’s website, but this tally was quickly reversed within an hour of being publicized by Food Democracy Now! Since November 6th, the vote count in California has been updated daily until December 4th, when the vote count hit 6 million for the first time. When contacted, the Secretary of State's office stated there would be no further updates to the vote totals until Dec 14th when state law requires the election results to be certified. County elected officials only have until COB Dec 7th to submit final results. At the same time, Food Democracy Now! has learned that a team of independent statisticians have detected “statistical anomalies” in the largest precincts of 9 counties, including Orange, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Alameda and San Diego counties. If this troubles you as it does me, please call the Secretary of State's Elections Division staff at (916) 657-2166 to tell them you expect Secretary Debra Bowen to continue to update the vote count until the election is certified on Dec 14th. Source: Food Deomcracy Now! referring_akid=686.313022.qyz1we&source=taf

Roger Pelizzari    
USA  |  December, 09, 2012 at 04:11 PM

Possible Revote on Prop 37 Prop 37 opponents published fraudulent statements in the Voter's Guide, which is a felony and committed fraud in their ads, misappropriating the FDA seal. They raised widespread fear of higher food prices if Prop 37 were to win. If the election is overturned, there will be a revote. Contact Secretary of State Debra Bowen: Elections Division (916) 657-2166 Voter Hotline (800) 345-8683 Online message form: (Choose Elections)

Houlton, ME  |  December, 18, 2012 at 02:34 PM

To disregard millions of people as "activists" is ridiculous, as is the editorialist's call to the industry to "not let down its guard." Why is the industry so afraid of GMO labeling? I, like many others, want to make educated choices about the food I eat. I do not want biotech companies to make that decision for me. GMO labeling will happen and eventually no amount of millions of dollars spent by Monsanto and their like will prevent it.

Dennis Glodzik    
Kempton, PA  |  January, 02, 2013 at 01:47 PM

It's only natural that the food companies lobbied so hard to defeat the Prop. 37 initiative. The population keeps increasing, we are more and more crowded and we are more and more "rats in a laboratory." Industry and the food companies care about sales, not about the health of individuals. Fighting against big business, along with the cooperation of stupid voters, I fear for the future. The right wing nuts on radio often say "Why would business do anything to harm their customers?" Wake up! They're in bed with big business, as they all have pretty much the same agenda. Money flows from big business to those who already have money but know how to get onto a corporate teat to nurse from. The right wing nuts start from their biblical admonition to "be fruitful and multiply." BB starts from the drive for more profits. I had some direct experience of this at my former workplace. When I found out we had been dumping dangerous chemicals down the drain, knowing we had our own well and our own on-site septic system I asked management to test the well water. "Why, is anyone getting sick?" Was the first reply, followed by a half hour of arguments as to why these chemicals (trichloroethylene was one of them) weren't harmful. They finally agreed to test the water. Results were just under those which would have required public posting of warning signs and posters. They fought testing because, compared to costs and profits, they didn't care.

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