The battle for improved food transparency faced a devastating blow in California as election results early this morning showed the failure to pass the state ballot to label food with genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. With 53 percent voting against the hotly debated Proposition 37, and with 47 percent in favor, the initiative to make California the first state to have such labeling lost by a substantial margin.
The final vote is a big difference from polls reported back in September showing Prop 37 to be overwhelmingly popular, with 65 percent in favor. The drastic shift may have something to do with the millions of anti-Prop 37 advertising dollars spent on the “No on Prop. 37” campaign, with agribusiness giant (and top GE crop producer) Monsanto leading the way. Monsanto alone contributed over $8 million to stop the proposition. Joined by other entities (including Pepsico, Kraft Foods, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Kellogg, etc.) whose products would require labeling as a result of the law, the industry spent nearly $46 million to defeat the measure. Meanwhile, the "Yes on Prop. 37" campaign spent $8.9 million to support the pro-labeling initiative.
It's not a surprise, then, that messages by the “No” campaign overshadowed the concerns of those who've blown the whistle on GE products. If people knew about the disillusionment of former Monsanto employee Kirk Azevedo with genetic engineering, would they give up the right to know what they're eating? Consumers should also be aware that one of Monsanto's shareholders said the company is not transparent enough about GE food risks and should acknowledge the public and environmental health concerns raised by farmers, citizen activists and other whistleblowers.
One can look at the bright side, however. Co-chair of Yes on 37, Grant Lundberg, said that either way "this is a win," because "never before have millions of Californians come together to support giving consumers a choice about genetically engineered foods." An important statewide (and national) discussion of food transparency was launched, and it won't be the last we see of labeling efforts. The battle continues!
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.