GMO food fight: Round two 2013

file59614969_454bf1db[2]By: Ronnie Cummins

(NaturalNews) On November 6, in the wake of one of the most expensive and  scurrilous smear campaigns in history, six million voters scared the hell out of  Monsanto and Big Food Inc. by coming within a razor’s edge of passing the first  statewide mandatory labeling law for genetically modified organisms  (GMOs).

Prop 37, a citizens’ ballot initiative that would have required  the mandatory labeling of billions of dollars of genetically engineered (GE)  foods and put an end to the routine industry practice of fraudulently marketing  GE-tainted foods as “natural” or “all natural,” lost by a narrow margin of 48.6%  to 51.4%. Opponents couldn’t claim anything close to a landslide, even though  they outspent the pro-labeling campaign almost six to one.

The Grocery  Manufacturers Association (GMA) immediately put a happy face on the narrow  victory, repeating its tired old propaganda in a public statement: “Proposition  37 was a deeply flawed measure that would have resulted in higher food costs,  frivolous lawsuits and increased state bureaucracies. This is a big win for  California consumers, taxpayers, business and farmers.”

But Jennifer  Hatcher, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the Food  Marketing Institute, came closer to expressing the real sentiments of the big guns  who opposed Prop 37, a measure she had previously said “scared us to death,” in  her official statement:

“This gives us hope that you can, with a  well-funded, well-organized, well-executed campaign, defeat a ballot initiative  and go directly to the voters. We hope we don’t have too many of them, because  you can’t keep doing that over and over again . . .”.

Maybe they can’t.  But we can. Unlike the Food Marketing Institute and its friends at the GMA,  consumers can – and will – “keep doing that over and over again.” We can – and  will – propose state laws and state ballot initiatives as often as we need, in  as many states as we must, until we have what 61 other countries have: truth and  transparency in the form of mandatory GMO labeling laws. Far from giving up, the  alternative food and farming movement that was narrowly defeated in California  has evolved into a battle-savvy, seasoned national movement, than ever.

As Zuri Allen, California  Field Organizer of the Organic Consumers Association put it, “We may have lost  this first major battle in California, but millions of angry and energized  consumers across the country are now joining together in a nationwide right to  know campaign which will ultimately drive genetically engineered crops and foods  off the market.”

That clearly has Big Biotech and Big Food worried. And  well it should. We’ve barely rung in the new year, and already GMO  labeling battles are heating up in Washington State, Vermont and  Connecticut. Other states aren’t far behind.

On Jan. 4, activists in  Washington State delivered approximately 300,000 signatures to the state  legislature to guarantee that a mandatory GMO  labeling Initiative, I-522, will be on the ballot in November. Initial polling  shows that Washington state voters will likely pass this Ballot Initiative, no  matter how much money the biotech industry and large food  corporations put into an anti-labeling campaign.

On the other side of the  country, Vermont is picking up where it left off last year after the governor  caved in to Monsanto’s threats to sue the  state if it passed a GMO labeling law. Undaunted, and buoyed by 90% support from  consumers, legislators will reintroduce a GMO labeling bill in early January.  Vermont’s pro-organic, anti-GMO proponents fully expect to pass a labeling  bill by May. Connecticut is right behind them, with plans to introduce a  similarly popular GMO labeling bill early this year.

Why a win is just  around the corner.

Giant biotech and junk food corporations, joined by  major food processors and supermarket chains,
poured  more than $46 million dollars into a vicious dirty tricks campaign to defeat GMO  labeling in California.  Their tactics included a relentless barrage of TV and radio ads falsely claiming  GE food labels would raise grocery prices, hurt family farmers, and enrich trial  lawyers. They unleashed “scientific” testimonials manufactured by phony front  groups, and they mailed counterfeit voter guides. They may even have engaged in  “vote-flipping” by pre-programming electronic voting tabulators.

A  statewide pre-election eve poll conducted by Lake Research found that the  Biotech Behemoth’s “No on 37” propaganda campaign successfully confused many  Californians. As of Nov. 5, the day before the election, the majority of  Californians stated that they still supported mandatory labeling of GE foods.  But a critical mass, especially the 40% who voted early by absentee ballot, said  they were willing to give up their right to know what was in their food if  mandatory GE labels might increase food costs, expand the size and power of  state bureaucrats, harm family farmers or unfairly benefit trial lawyers and  other “special interests.”

That changed once the YES on 37 campaign  launched its own modest $3-million ad campaign on October 27. Once the  pro-labeling ads rolled out, several million undecided voters saw through the  biotech and junk-food industry propaganda and voted Yes on 37. In fact, Prop 37  won the election-day vote. But it was too little, too late. The campaign  couldn’t recover from its losses in early voting.

That was California.  Washington State promises to tell a different story.

Looking at the  logistics and outcome of the Prop 37 campaign in California in 2012 and  comparing these to the upcoming I-522 battle in Washington, there are several  major differences that will likely prove to be decisive:

(1) Size and  campaign costs. California is an enormous state, both geographically and in  terms of population. Its TV and radio ad markets are also among the priciest in  the country. Tough for a grassroots campaign with a small budget to reach  California voters far and wide, on the ground and through the media. Even  tougher to compete with an opposition willing and able to spend $46 million to  win. Compare that scenario with Washington State, which has one-fifth the  population of California, and where $1 spent on TV ads equals $8 in California.  Factor in that Washington’s population is highly concentrated in the health and  environmentally-conscious Seattle metropolitan area, and it’s easy to see that  internet, in-person contact, and radio and TV advertising will cost less and be  easier to execute in Washington than it was in California. Experts estimate that  Monsanto and its allies will be able to spend only $20 million in Washington on  advertising. That’s enough to saturate the state’s airwaves. But it’s not too  much for the Yes on I-522 campaign to overcome as long as it can raise and spend  $4-$5 million – about half of what the California labeling campaign  raised.

(2) Timing. In California, Yes on 37 forces didn’t get on the  ballot until May. That left only six months for public education and  fundraising. In Washington, I-522 proponents have a full nine months before  people begin their voting (which is by mail).

(3) Support from farmers  and rural communities. In California, Prop 37 was supported mostly by consumers  and organic farmers. In Washington State, wheat farmers, whether organic or not,  apple farmers and fishing communities also vocally support mandatory GMO  labeling. That’s because GMO labeling is arguably in the best economic interests  of a state where unlabeled GMO wheat, apples and salmon spilling into the market  would severely damage state agricultural exports to countries that either forbid  GMO imports or require GMO labeling.

(4) Progressive elected officials  and electorate. California’s Governor Brown refused to take a stand on Prop 37.  But Washington’s new elected Governor, Jay Inslee, is a long-time supporter and  former Congressional advocate of GMO labeling. Washington voters recently  reminded us that they are proud progressives, by approving the legalization of  marijuana via a November ballot Initiative. California voters defeated a similar  measure in 2010.

(5) The Frankenfish controversy. Despite enormous public  opposition and warnings by scientists that genetically engineered salmon pose  unacceptable health and environmental risks, the Obama administration’s FDA  announced in late December that it would nonetheless allow unlabeled genetically  engineered salmon to be commercialized. Polls show that Washington voters are  adamantly opposed to this fast-growing, likely allergenic mutant salmon – part  fish, part eel – entering the market. Fishermen/fisherwomen, chefs and  restaurants are already raising their voices in opposition. Meanwhile in Alaska,  GMO salmon will have to be labeled because of a state law passed in 2005. The  biotech industry is going to have a difficult time explaining why Frankenfish  have to be labeled in Alaska, but not in Washington or other states.

(6)  Divisions between Big Food and Big Biotech. As the comments by the Food  Marketing Institute executive suggest, big food companies are starting to worry  about their image. They’re worried about having to fight costly, high-profile  battles against GMO labeling in numerous states, possibly even simultaneously. A  number of large food companies that dumped big money into defeating Prop 37 –  companies like Kellogg’s, General Mills, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft and  Dean Foods, own “natural” or organic brands. Those brands, including Kashi, Muir  Glen, Cascadian Farm, Ben and Jerry’s, White Wave, Horizon and others, are  starting to feel the heat from angry consumers who have joined the “Traitor  Boycott.” How long will the nation’s food manufacturers and supermarket chains  carry the water and do the dirty work for Monsanto and biotech  industry?

It’s only a matter of time before we pass GMO legislation. Once  we do, it will mark the beginning of the end for GMO food and farming, just as  it did in Europe. But to ensure that this happens, sooner rather than later,  state GMO right-to-know campaigns in Washington, Vermont, Connecticut and other  states need money, technical assistance volunteers, and endorsements. You can  help by donating  to the Washington state ballot initiative, I-522, and other state GMO labeling  efforts.

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1 Comment on GMO food fight: Round two 2013

  1. Thank you very much for a very well written and informative article. I appreciate the CA vs. WA comparison info. I do hope that paper voting will be used in WA. I believe that is the only way to ensure that the WA votes are accurate. Would the author please write an article about the accuracy of paper voting vs. electronic voting? I am concerned about the potential “vote flipping” you mentioned above. Would paper voting help ensure that doesn’t happen in WA? (No pre-programming of electronic voting tabulators.)

    Best of luck Washington State! We hope you are able to pave the way for the rest of us! BTW, we love your “organic” crisp Red Delicious apples! I even took the time to look up the growers in WA to see how they’re doing that, since so many apples are laden with chemicals these days. We buy them at Costco by the bags! No frankenapples for us ever–we’re feeling much better health wise ever since we went non-GMO!

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