As the dust settles on the 2012 elections, voters in California have apparently defeated a measure that would have required the labeling of biotech content in packaged foods. The measure, which had wide support from a number of groups was also called flawed because of some of the exclusions in the law.
With nearly 90% of precincts reporting in, the measure was failing by more than 6 percentage points with the 'No' votes at 53.1% and the 'Yes' votes at 46.9%.
Spending from opponents of the measure topped $44 million while those in favor ponied up $7 million to support the effort. Groups arguing for the measure focused on the consumer's right to know what is in their food. And the measure would have tagged packaged goods that used any biotech-derived products. Corn was a widely targeted crop in since nearly 90% of the U.S. corn crop contains genetically modified - GM - content and corn is included in some form in many packaged foods.
Major companies opposed to the measure included not only biotech developers and marketers such as Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer, BASF, Dow and Syngenta, but also major food processors who opposed the measure, like Hormel Foods and Nestle.
Opponents of the measure focused on the proposition itself, noting a number of exclusions that they said made for bad policy. In a story reported earlier here, Jamie Johannson, second vice president, California Farm Bureau Federation had pointed out that the proposition was "full of absurd special interest exemptions that make absolutely no sense."
Loopholes in the measure exempting a wide range of foods, including dairy products and those served at restaurants (no labels for fast food for example), were a concern to opponents.
Proponents of the measure "conceded the race" Wednesday, but maintained that Americans and Californians still have a right to know what's in their food.
Jean Halloran, director of Consumer Reports' public policy arm Consumer Union, said, "Unfortunately, Proposition 37 was defeated by a wildly deceptive smear campaign financed by Monsanto, DuPont, and other industry opponents of the public’s right to know. In the end, opponents of Proposition 37 didn’t want Californians to be able to make informed decisions about whether to buy food that had been genetically engineered."
The Consumer Union press statement said also that "genetically engineered food has not been proven to be safe, and definitive long-term health studies have not been conducted" and "various environmental problems associated with genetic engineering have been documented."
While a California proposition, a lot of groups were watching this vote. The idea of labeling GMO content in food came up during Senate debate of the 2012 Farm Bill (still awaiting passage) calling for similar language to be included. That amendment from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was defeated. But it also shows there is a sentiment in the marketplace for some kind of labeling.
Down but not out
Even though the California proposition failed, it's important to note where the Yes votes were versus the No votes. As the map on this page shows, the preponderance of No votes were not in major metropolitan areas. This is a consumer movement that won't die because of a single failure at the polls.
Farmers, ranchers and those in commercial agriculture will be dealing with this issue in the future. Next week, the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance will tackle biotech questions during one of three panels as part of the next in its Food Dialogues series. Slated to appear in Mid-Town Manhattan, the event will also cover consumer perceptions of food and the use of antibiotics in agriculture.
Check out these links on Prop 37 and consumer attitudes:
Prop 37 Blazes Way for GMO Labeling
Campaign Funding to Defeat California Prop 37 Tops $44M
Survey Says: Transparency Matters to Consumers
GMO Measure Defeated in California (Feedstuffs)