The fight over California’s Proposition 37 and GMOs is heating up, with supporters of the measure focused on greater transparency in food ingredients and opponents such as Monsanto wailing that the sky will fall if the measure passes this November. If Proposition 37 succeeds, the new requirement to disclose GMO labeling on raw or processed foods would reverberate beyond California’s boundaries. Similar to the long tussle over flame retardants, the passage of Proposition 37 would make the labeling of foods with GMOs become the de facto standard across America because companies selling products in this market often look to standards and regulations required in the most populous state.
And that is why some large corporations are pushing back hard, writing checks in the millions of dollars to fight the measure’s passage. Other companies are contributing funds to support Proposition 37. The indefatigable Dr. Bronner’s, the castile soap company, has donated $290,000 to pro-Proposition 37, and its contributions have in fact been almost tripled by Mercola.com. But their allies, which include the food companies Nature’s Path and Amy’s Kitchen, are walking into a massive gunfight with a butter knife.
The 10th highest contributor to anti-Proposition 37 sources, Syngenta, has outspent Mercola.com. But Monsanto has donated over $4.2 million to no-on-Prop-37 forces, which as of August 15 is more than double the contributions of the top 10 pro-37 check writers. Compare the top 10 pro- and anti- Proposition 37 forces, and that overall ratio spikes at a rate of over 10 to one. And similar to the case of past California propositions, this is not a fight within the California state line; money is pouring in from Washington DC’s K Street, Missouri and North Carolina. Anti-37 spenders in New York have almost tripled the contributions of Prop 37 supporters who live in California.
The debate over Proposition 37 is very nuanced. Supporters of GMO labeling point to risks to ecosystems, dubious industrial food, the patenting and control of the global food supply, as well as the curious increase in food allergies over the past generation. Those who support the increased research, development and sales of GMOs point to the challenge of feeding a global population that will surge to 9 billion people by 2050.
Transparency in ingredients should not be a political issue: after all, GMO labeling is required in other industrialized countries and giant food companies like Nestle, Barilla, Unilever and Danone continue to thrive. Here in the USA, business opportunities abound: companies including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods generate huge profits with their pledge to avoid foods containing GMOs. At the same time, a UC-Davis study points out that Proposition 37 has its flaws. Conventional foods with trace amounts of GMOs would have to slap a label on their packages, but organic foods with higher levels of genetically modified ingredients would be exempt.
Opponents of Proposition 37 should see the amount of their checks as a thinly veiled warning. Californians have had a history of shunning free-spending politicians, and when it comes to propositions, they have spurned campaigns that spend big bucks supporting or fighting initiatives while distorting the truth. That list is long, and includes past gubernatorial flops Jane Harman, Al Checchi, Bill Simon Jr., and Proposition 23. But in the Citizens United era, anything could happen, as was the case with Proposition 29 earlier this year.
If Proposition 37 fails in the November 2012 election, it says less about whether GMOs are good or bad for you than the sorry state of American politics. Monsanto’s reputation, meanwhile, will hardly change: it surely does not have much of one now.
Learn more about Triple Pundit’s coverage of GMOs.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo of the California State Capitol in Sacramento courtesy Wikipedia.