Despite the defeat of Prop 37, food activists in Santa Cruz say they haven’t given up their fight against GMOs.
After the defeat of Proposition 37, the “California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” on Nov. 6, proponents of GMO food labeling say they’re regrouping, fueled by a new wave of awareness about the issue that’s rippled across the state.
Even though polls showed that 91 percent of the public would prefer to know if they’re eating genetically modified food, California voters rejected the proposed labeling handily, 53 percent to 47 percent. Santa Cruz County joined San Francisco and Humboldt counties at the forefront of labeling support, with 65 percent of voters endorsing Prop 37.
“We’re all pretty tired, but, I mean, we’re not stopping,” says Mary Graydon-Fontana, a coordinator for GMO Free Santa Cruz. “Everybody’s been energized by Prop 37. We lost in the ballot box but we really didn’t lose, because this opened up the conversation so much.”
Graydon-Fontana says GMO Free Santa Cruz is in transition, with no clear idea of exactly they’ll be morphing into, but remain committed to the issue. They’re talking to grassroots leaders around the state about what the next steps are going to be. One likely move is to join a coalition of 30 states working on GMO labeling legislation—including Washington state, which is gathering signatures right now for its own ballot initiative.
“If we go through the legislation then we have to deal with lobbyists,” Graydon-Fontana says. “But with so many more people aware, and with more legislators on board with us now, the cities and counties, it’s a possibility. There really wouldn’t have been a possibility for legislation before Prop 37.”
Awareness is one thing, but big money is another. Local organizers say the $8.7 million raised for Prop 37 was no match for the $46.5 milion shelled out by the opposition. The top three funders of No on Prop 37 were Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical, and corporations like Nestle, Coca-Cola and Pepsi also contributed to the campaign pie.
Advocates of Prop 37 fought back limply with the TV slogan “Food is Love. Food is Life. Food is Family.” And while Prop 37 campaigners say they were simply trying to keep the message positive, some advocates point to this touchy-feely, free love approach as Prop 37’s downfall.
“We didn’t fight fire with fire,” says local Thomas Wittman, who sits on the board of directors for the Ecological Farming Association, and also hosted a radio show called The Right to Know Show on KSCO for 14 weeks before the elections. “We should have been really dwelling on the health effects, and not just on our right to know. The message never was as strong as it should have been.”
Many GMO supporters claim labeling is unnecessary, since FDA policy requires large corporations to conduct their own 90-day studies on its GMO crops.
“I support the U.S. FDA policy which requires labeling when the GM product differs from the conventional in terms of safety or nutritional value,” says Christine Bruhn, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Consumer Research at UC Davis. “I believe the next step for the public and those who value sustainability, environmental quality and human health is to embrace GM and other tools that help achieve these objectives.”
GMO opponents like Wittman point to the fact that Monsanto once told the public that DDT and Agent Orange were safe. This distrust of GMO self-regulation was evident on social media just hours after Prop. 37 went down, with many food activists expressing panic over the next move. “Label it yourself” is quickly becoming a common refrain within the anti-GMO movement. Organizations like gmoinside.org and nongmoproject.org are working to inform consumers of brands known to contain GMOs—a list that includes brand names like Bumble Bee Foods, Kraft, Nestle, Heinz, Cheerios and Kellogg’s.
To erase the shadow of doubt, Wittman advises GMO opponents to shop at local farmers markets—or “Buy organic, because anything that is organic is GMO free.”