In September, Proposition 37 seemed a shoe in with 61 percent of voters supporting the initiative to label genetically engineered foods in California. However, just one month later, a Los Angeles Times poll released yesterday showed that 44 percent of surveyed voters backed Prop 37, while 42 percent opposed it. Some 14 percent remains undecided.
A likely reason why: The opposition (read: Monsanto Company, DuPont and the Grocery Manufacturers Association among others) has pumped $41 million into negative television advertisements, reports the LA Times.
In a media call yesterday, some of the top natural food leaders gathered to "correct the record," as moderator Ken Cook said, about the opposition's claims. Namely, the accusations that Prop 37 will lead to lawsuits and higher food costs for consumers.
On the call were:
- Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group and call moderator
- Michael Funk, Chairman and Co-Founder, UNFI
- Andy Berliner, CEO, Amy’s Kitchen of Petaluma, Calif.
- Arran Stephens, CEO, Nature’s Path Foods
- David Lannon, Executive Vice President for Operations, Whole Foods Market, (representing 65 Calif. stores)
- Jimbo Someck, CEO, Jimbo’s… Naturally (4 Southern California Locations)
- Steven Hoffman, Managing Partner, Compass Natural Marketing
The "statistical dead heat" had the leaders fired up yet, in true David and Goliath style, confident that the Yes side will win. Several expressed hope that Prop 37 would take the same route that organic did 30 years ago when the organic label was passed in California—now a nationwide regulated label.
What did industry's leaders and some of the most passionate proponents of Prop 37 have to say? In their own words:
1. Lannon, Whole Foods: "Whole Foods Market supports Prop 37 because we believe all consumers have the right to know where their food comes from and how it's produced…. Do we wish that customers at Whole Foods customers would have the means to avoid GMOs in the products that we sell? We do. And the only way we can do it is through mandatory labeling."
Whole Foods is currently running radio ads and has billboards in San Francisco supporting Prop 37. In store, buttons worn by team members and banners champion the cause, and the retailer is also tapping into its vast social media networks.
2. Funk, UNFI: "This reminds me of when California became the first state to adopt an organic label law in 1980. I believe that California has again the opportunity to lead and by approving Prop 37 will inspire other states to pass similar policies, and ultimately the federal government will need to step in and give us a national policy like much of the rest of the developed world enjoys today.
"As a business person, I don't see any evidence that the measure will increase any costs in our food system nor will it create any other burdens over and above what we currently deal with in California."
3. Berliner, Amy’s Kitchen: "We have been labeling our products as GMO-free for over 12 years…. What about this claim from the opposition that food prices will go up $400 per year, per family? I can say that as a food manufacturer in Europe, where GE foods are not available in any food, that food costs have not gone up as a result. And in many cases, they are actually cheaper. Dairy, for example, is 25 percent less in the UK than it is in the United States, even though their cows are not fed with genetically engineered feed."
4. Stephens, Nature's Path: "The safety and predictability of GMO crops is uncertain, requiring massive applications of toxic glyphosate herbicides. There have never been any long-term safety tests of GMOs on humans or animals.
"Why have Kellogg and Kashi, General Mills, Cascadian Farms, Bear Naked, Larabar, PepsiCo, Coke and Nestle joined the chemical and seed giants to defeat American citizens' right to know, when these very same companies make non-GMO versions of their products in Europe and other countries?"
Stephens recently traveled to Boulder, Colo., to speak with newhope360 about Prop 37. Watch the video.
5. Someck, Jimbo's: After the store adopted a Non-GMO Project Verified policy on all new products containing potential at-risk ingredients, "what we found was not only did customers truly appreciate the stance that we took, but that they supported us and really, in a sense, demanded that we continued to go down this road.
"As I said to my staff at the time, in making this decision I'm not doing it for me or for our bottom line; I'm doing it because I believe it's what's best for my kids (and I have four of them) and kids all over the world…. If I thought that indeed there was potential for costly lawsuits, I would not be supporting Prop 37."
6. Steven Hoffman, Compass: "The donors to No on 37 read like a list of multinational corporations, pretty much the vast majority of them based outside of California. In particular you have a lot of major food companies who are following a cheap food policy where the externalities of those costs are born in health care and environmental contamination.
"While they're outspending us 10 to 1, and spending a million and a half dollars a day on deceptive advertising, we have had tremendous support across the board. We have over 3,000 endorsements, not just from major natural and organic products companies… but from health advocates, medical organizations, environmental groups and consumer groups. If you look at the donors of Yes on 37, you'll see that it's the people vs. the corporations."
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