Colleen Scherer
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.