President Obama wasn’t the only big winner on Tuesday: the Monsanto Co. and the billion-dollar business behind genetically modified foods were victorious in California, where a measure that would've required the labeling of GMOs lost at the polls.
Proposition 37, a state-wide initiative that aimed to increase consumer awareness about the food industry’s growing use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), was defeated by a margin of 53 to 47 percent, with nearly all of the polls accounted for Wednesday morning.
Had Prop 37 been approved, foods containing GMOs would have been mandated to make the fact clear on the product’s label. If passed, the law would’ve meant most processed foods would be forced to include notes to consumers that they were "partially produced with genetic engineering" or "may be partially produced with genetic engineering" by 2014. Additionally, the words "genetically engineered" would be required to appear on packaging as well.
The Missouri-based Monsanto Company, an international leader in agricultural biotechnology and a proponent of GMO use, dumped millions of dollars into a campaign that opposed the ballot measure — a maneuver that many are saying was singlehandedly responsible for swinging the vote.
“Vote No,” a campaign waged against the proposition, was funded with at least $45 million worth of contributions from some of the biggest businesses in the industry that feared mandatory labeling would have cast a dark cloud over their products, pushing consumers away from purchasing items that have to identify GMO use. Although much research has found no conclusive proof that GMOs are directly hazardous to the health of humans, the relatively immature technology has attracted a fair share of skepticism by activists, scientists and agricultural experts who fear not enough testing has been done to show how safe those products are. Despite a grassroots effort from those behind Prop 37 to push for public awareness, supporters failed to compete with the grossly funded “Vote No” campaign, coming up with only $8 million they managed to garner in backing.
The “Vote No” campaign’s biggest supporter was Monsanto, who threw more than $8 million themselves into efforts to defeat the measure. Dupont, Pepsico, Bayer, Dow and Syngenta were also big funders of the opposition, each contributing at least $2 million apiece.
Just weeks before Election Day, support for Prop 37 was tremendous, receiving favor from around 66.9 percent of likely-voters as of a September 27 poll conducted by California Business Roundtable/Pepperdine University. In the days since those results were published, though, “Vote No” launched a pricey advertisement blitz, blanketing airwaves across the state with calls to shun the measure.
"Desperate times have apparently caused them to resort to desperate measures," Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for the No on 37 campaign, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel earlier this month. Elsewhere in the press, she said the proposition’s forced labeling was “anti-science” that would spur millions of dollars in lawsuit and problems for the consumer over allegedly inflated retail prices expected to occur if it passed.
Those favoring the bill said it wasn’t a matter of arguing with science, but more of fighting for safety.
“Genetically engineered foods found on market shelves have most commonly been altered in a lab to either be resistant to being sprayed by large amounts of toxic herbicides, or to produce, internally, their own insecticide,” Mark A. Kastel of The Cornucopia Institute said in a statement this week. “Corporations that produce both the genetically engineered crops and their designer pesticides, in concert with the multi-billion-dollar food manufacturers that use these ingredients, fought this measure tooth and nail, throwing $46 million at the effort that would have required food manufacturers to include informational labeling on GMO content on their packaging,”
Questioning that argument, Alexandra Le Tellier of The Los Angeles Times asked recently, “If the problem is the pesticides, then why isn’t the Proposition 37 labeling initiative about that?”
By Wednesday morning, Fairbanks was celebrating the efforts of the costly campaign and hinted that the high-price advertisements crafted to persuade voters to opt against Prop 37 was the reason for its defeat.
"We said from the beginning that the more voters learned about Prop. 37, the less they would like it," she said after the election. "We didn't think they would like the lawsuits, more bureaucracy, higher costs, loopholes and exemptions. It looks like they don't."
Grant Lundberg, the chief executive of Lundberg Family Farms, who co-chairs California Right to Know, issued a statement of his own saying regardless whether of the measure’s failure to pass, a point was made nonetheless.
"No matter what happens, we've raised awareness of a very important issue," Lundberg says.