Fishermen, environmentalists and consumer advocates were disappointed – but not surprised – by the narrow defeat of Proposition 37, the initiative calling for the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) food in California, on November 6.
GE food opponents said they will be ramping up the campaign across the country to make GE labeling the law in the coming year and are already organizing in over a dozen states.
Pesticide companies, led by Monsanto and Dupont, and other corporations spent nearly $50 million to defeat the grassroots effort. The need to label food products arises from the dramatic proliferation of processed food containing genetically engineered components in recent years – and from the push by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve AquaBounty's genetically modified Atlantic salmon for human consumption.
"Yesterday, we showed that there is a food movement in the United States, and it is strong, vibrant and too powerful to stop," the CA Right to Know (Proposition 37) Campaign said in a statement. "We always knew we were the underdogs, and the underdogs nearly took the day. Dirty money and dirty tactics may have won this skirmish, but they will not win the war.
"Today, we are more than 4 million votes closer to knowing what's in our food than when we started. This is a victory and a giant step forward. We are proud of our broad coalition of moms and dads, farmers, nurses, environmentalists, faith and labor leaders who did so much with so few resources to bring us to this point, and we will carry forward," according to the statement.
One Bought Election Doesn't Change Massive Support for GE Food Labeling
Kristin Lynch, the Food & Water Watch Pacific Region Director, also issued a statement today commenting on Proposition 37's narrow loss. She emphasized that the unprecedented campaign of falsehoods and deception funded by pesticide and junk food corporations led to the proposition's defeat, in spite of strong public support for GE food labeling.
"In the face of unrelenting deceptive advertising funded by giant chemical and processed food corporations to the tune of nearly $50 million, California's Proposition 37 calling for a simple label on genetically engineered food narrowly lost with 47 percent of the vote," said Lynch. "While support for GE food labels has never been stronger, the incessant drumbeat of misleading and outright false industry advertising was barely able to defeat this popular measure. While disappointed in the result, we believe that this movement to label GE foods is stronger than ever and we will continue to build a robust national grassroots campaign to push for mandatory labeling across the country.
"Pesticide companies led by Monsanto and DuPont, and processed food corporations led by Pepsi and Kraft spent an unprecedented amount of money to confuse and deceive Californians into voting against their right to know what's in their food. But we should not be surprised – honesty and transparency are clearly not the priority of corporations that spend millions keeping consumers in the dark about whether or not their food has been genetically altered in a laboratory.
"However, one bought election does not change the fact that more than 90 percent of Americans want to join the more than 60 other countries around the world in knowing whether or not their food has been genetically engineered with a simple label. As we've done with other initiatives like nutrition and country-of-origin labels, we will continue to stand up to these corporate forces until consumers have the basic right to choose from themselves whether or not to buy and eat GE foods.
"Prop 37 may not have passed, but it brought together and galvanized people from across California, the country and the world who believe deeply that people have the right to know whether their food has been genetically engineered, and this momentum will only grow. We are already organizing in over a dozen states and in the coming year will be ramping up our campaign across the country to let consumers decide and make GE labeling the law," Lynch concluded.
GE Crops and Frankenfish Threaten Salmon Fisheries
Commercial and recreational fishing advocates also acknowledged the setback the defeat of 37 represents, but vowed to step up the campaign to label GE food and to stop the FDA approval of genetically engineered salmon.
"The defeat of Proposition 37 is obviously a big setback because genetically engineered crops result in heavier pesticide use, which is bad for salmon and other fish," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
"We're also concerned about the potential for the approval of GE salmon in the future and for the ability of consumers to go into the market and know if they are buying a wild, farmed or genetically engineered salmon," said Grader.
"It's time to take some names and make a list of all those companies that worked to defeat Proposition 37 and stop buying their products, beginning with Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Anybody seen drinking them in my presence will be hearing from me," said Grader.
"No on 37" Celebrates Defeat of Initiative
The No on 37 Campaign issued a statement celebrating the defeat of the proposition, calling it "the flawed and misguided food labeling measure."
"California voters clearly saw through Prop 37 and rejected higher food costs, more lawsuits and more bureaucracy," claimed Henry I. Miller, M.D., a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. "Food labeling policy should be based on logic and science, not fear. Leading scientific organizations have all agreed that foods containing genetically engineered ingredients are safe and are not materially different from their traditional counterparts. We're glad the voters rejected this misleading, costly and unnecessary measure."
Besides the pesticide and junk food corporations, corporate agribusiness interests pushing for the construction of a peripheral canal were also involved heavily with the campaign against Proposition 37.
"California family farmer" Ted Sheely, a Westlands Water District grower and past member of the Westlands Board of Directors who grows genetically engineered cotton in the San Joaquin Valley on his 8,700-acre farm in Kings County, posed as a "California family farmer" in ads against Proposition 37.
"It's going to put the California farmer at a disadvantage with the other 49 states," claimed Sheely. "The people that are least able to pay are going to be forced to pay more. Please join California farmers in voting No on Prop 37."
Westlands Water District, the "poster child" of unsustainable corporate agribusiness in California, is known for its relentless efforts over the years to stop the restoration of salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt and other fish species on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, its unsuccessful legal campaign to block Trinity River restoration and its current campaign to build the peripheral tunnels.
The construction of the peripheral canal or tunnels would lead to the extinction of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish species, according to federal, state and independent scientists. Under the guise of "habitat restoration," the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the tunnels would take Delta farmland, some of the most fertile on the planet, out of production in order to provide massive amounts of water to irrigate unsustainable, drainage-impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
Dan Bacher is an editor of The Fish Sniffer, described as "The #1 Newspaper in the World Dedicated Entirely to Fishermen."