If 90 percent of Americans are in favor of GE food labeling, why didn't California's Proposition 37 pass? The answer, natural industry leaders agree, lies in the sheer volume of money spent by the opposition, which includes Monsanto, DuPont, Pepsi, BASF, Kraft Foods, Nestle and Syngenta, among others.
The fact that the Yes on Prop 37 campaign wasn't prepared with enough money was no surprise to industry veteran Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It for the federal labeling of GE foods.
"From the very beginning when [natural leaders] started calling on industry to support it, I was opposed to it," said Hirshberg. "I knew we would be dramatically outspent… Even when our numbers were up, I was fearful of what would happen when the [opposition's] money dropped in."
Hirshberg's fears came true as the No on Prop 37 campaign deluged California for 20 days leading up to election. The No on Prop 37 campaign's "scare tactics" and "deceitful ads"—such as the claim that food bills would be $400 more per family per year—caused the Yes on Prop 37 support to drop 1 point a day during that time, a time when the Yes side didn't have enough money to answer back.
"A lot of [Californian's] idealism quickly went out the door when they were told it was going to cost more money," said Arran Stephens, founder of Nature's Path whose company donated $660,000 to Yes on Prop 37. The Yes side still gathered 4.6 million signatures, the most signatures ever collected on a policy for the natural food movement.
Next steps for GMO labeling
Despite the loss, Hirshberg told newhope360, "I feel like I need to write Monsanto a thank you note." The vast amount of money spent by large food and chemical corporations has lit a fire under organic and natural food supporters and catapulted the issue into the mainstream like never before.
"Spending $45 million to tell citizens that they don't have or need to have the right to know what's in their food" will come back to haunt the opposition, predicts Hirshberg. "This was not an election. This was a sale and theft of citizens' rights to know. That's only going to help us build credibility and support."
Some of those food companies, such as Kashi and Cascadian Farms, are owned by parent companies that contributed money to the No campaign. Will this change consumers' shopping behavior well after the Cornucopia Institute's infographic stops making the rounds?
"The industry has underestimated the extent of the disappointment in some of the brands, the Kashi and Cascadians," said John Roulac, CEO and founder of world's leading organic superfood brand, Nutiva. "The feedback they're experiencing is only going to intensify."
Roulac and Green America are behind a new campaign called GMO Inside, that intends to prevent consumers from forgetting about the GMOs in their food. Launched just last week, the website will foster a grassroots campaign to mobilize citizens to do their own GMO food labeling.
One of Roulac's goal is to have 100,000 people taking action once a month, such as slapping a GMO Inside sticker on a food in their pantry and posting a photo on Facebook. Print your stickers here to get started.
Back to Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, Just Label It is squaring its focus back on the federal level. "The road was always going to bring us back to the federal effort, no matter what," said Hirshberg. "Even if we had won. As a matter of fact, especially if we had won."
Yesterday, Just Label It unveiled a new web video that shows 27 celebrities, musicians and actors speaking out in favor of GE food labeling.
Why celebrities? Hirshberg writes about the video, "How do we overcome the money and influence of the chemical companies controlling our federal government’s approach to GE foods and labeling? The answer is: numbers. We need millions of Americans to tell our federal government officials that this is an important issue, and that we want transparency, honesty and labeling in our food system."
The hope is that this diverse group of celebrities will inspire others to want to know what's in their food. Just like elections, when it comes to changing food policy in Washington, every signature counts.
What do you think should be the next steps for GMO labeling? Share in the comments.