Now that Labor Day is past us, the election season will heat up and the advertising barrage is underway. One such battle will be over Proposition 37, which will require companies selling food products in California to disclose GMO ingredients on their packaging. So far Monsanto has led the anti-Prop 37 gauntlet, with over $4.3 million in checks written to defeat the initiative.
But despite Monsanto’s determination to sink Proposition 37, which so far scores about a 65 percent “yes” vote in the polls, Monsanto has not always taken such a strident position against GMO food labeling. In fact, to play on a quote that helped sink a presidential campaign back in 2004, Monsanto was for GMO labeling before the company was against it.
During the last 1990s, Monsanto ran advertisements throughout the United Kingdom that actually supported GMO labeling. Since 1997 the European Union has required the labeling of food products that “contain or consist of” GMOs, and in fact, products that did not technically contain GMOs, but still had proteins or DNAs resulting from any past genetic modification, also earned such a badge on food packaging. The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has had its own mandates that cover food labeling and hence spell out to consumers what must be labeled and what otherwise passes muster.
And Monsanto’s UK marketing crew rolled with the regulations. Ads wtih a caring tone stated that “you may want to know whether it’s the product of food biotechnology.” Assuring consumers that the company had the upmost confidence it its soy, potato and corn seeds, Monsanto insisted that it supported food retailers in the rollout of the then-new labels and gushed that the company believed consumers “should be aware of all the facts before making a purchase.” The ads smacked of solid, communicative corporate social responsibility lingo. Finally, consumers could pick up leaflets at stores or call the company’s toll free number with any concerns. True, Monsanto ran the advertisements after the GMO labeling issue was already settled throughout Europe. Nevertheless the company looks like a hypocritical flip-flopper.
Here in the United States, Monsanto is taking a much different tone, and insists that Proposition 37 would “undermine both our labeling laws and consumer confidence.” Instead, Monsanto is preaching the tired old opt-in, opt-out argument, and states that consumers can buy products that are sourced from organic or non-GMO ingredients.
The unfortunate result is that Monsanto has become the Cruella de Vil of the food industry. The millions the company has spent to defeat a bill that so far is popular among Californians and prevents a fair debate over the bill based on its merits and faults. For a company that is quick to crow about its sustainability and corporate responsibility work, its relentless anti-37 campaign will win more enemies than friends. And incidentally, the millions of Missouri money spent here in California could be better spent on Monsanto’s corporate giving programs that are almost 50 years old.
Monsanto has succeeded on one front, however: watch for grass roots organizations to fight even harder to ensure that Proposition 37 passes with at the minimum a 50 percent plus one vote.
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.