The Future of GMO Labeling

Tomiko Peirano

Tomiko Peirano › Tomiko has amassed decades of experience in the food industry, from her family's restaurant in Oregon's ...


In his Mother Jones article "Did California Voters Defeat the Food Movement Along With Prop. 37?", Tom Philpott looks at the future of the national food movement through the lens of Tuesday night's defeat of Proposition 37 (the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act).

Prop. 37 was seen by many as one of the first major plays for substantial policy change led by the real food movement, and it looked to have a fair shot at passing. It's defeat left many of us scratching our heads and wondering, "What went wrong?" It seemed so obviously good, so beneficial for the consumer… how could it not have succeeded?

Philpott writes:

As I and others have noted, the initiative—assuming that it would have survived Monsanto's inevitable legal challenges—likely would have inspired the processed-food industry to label foods everywhere, since making separate labels for California would have been costly and troublesome. And national GMO labeling probably would have sparked a real national conversation on just what's going on with our food supply—how it got so homogenized, uniform, and reliant on a narrow base of seed types owned by a tiny number of giant companies. Prop. 37 was a kind of quasi-national referendum on corporate domination of the food system. That's why national-level writers like Pollan, Mark Bittman, Marion Nestle, myself, and others go so involved with it.

Despite this eager, vocal and high-profile base of support for Prop. 37 (which extended far beyond the borders of California), the opponents had huge reserves of money and were able to blanket the airwaves in the final weeks of campaigning:

What do you get for $45.6 million? You get a slick, relentless, truth-challenged campaign, crafted by veteran GOP political hand and former tobacco flack Thomas Hiltachk. The "No on Prop. 37" campaign began its  television ad blitz on Oct. 1, a campaign spokesperson told me. At the time, Prop. 37 was leading in the Pepperdine University/California Business Roundtable poll by a factor of three to one. By the time of the next poll, Oct. 11, the race had tightened to a near dead heat—the proposition's slide toward defeat had begun.

Yes, proponents of labeling GMOs may have lost a battle Tuesday night, but it should not be surmised that the real food movement suffered any setbacks.

There will be no licking our wounds in the corner. We don't have the time.

Given the formidability and deep pockets of the opposition, I think it's overblown to treat Prop. 37 as a pass-fail test of the food movement's political viability. The movement made a strong move at the king and missed, but it isn't going anywhere. George Kimbrell, who, as senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety, helped craft the legislation, told me that activists are gathering signatures to push a labeling initiative in the state of Washington in 2013, and he expects to see labeling bills in statehouses in Maine, Oregon, New Mexico, and others. "You try and try and fail, and eventually you succeed," he said.

The momentum behind labeling GMO foods has not abated since Tuesday night, rather, it has most likely grown. The general tone seen across social media platforms on Wednesday morning was a rallying cry for all of us to keep collectively trying to label GMOs.

We plan on doing just that.

Click here to read the Mother Jones article in full.

Do you think GMO labeling has a shot at success in Washington, D.C. next year?

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