Near Death of Proposition 37 Proves California’s Initiative Process Needs Reform

GMOs are all over California

Whatever your opinion is on Proposition 37, the proposition which would require companies operating in California to provide labels if their foods contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms), one issue is clear: California’s ballot initiative process is in desperate need of reform.

As support for the measure craters in public opinion polls, the role of outside money in the fight against Proposition 37 has become a case study of how public policy in California evolves by dollars, not debate. Monsanto alone has almost outspent all Yes-on-37 contributors combined; other companies including DuPont, PepsiCo, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, BASF, Kraft and Coca-Cola have also outspent the top pro-37 contributor,

Proposition 37 would offer consumers transparency and address concerns over a few corporations controlling access to seeds and therefore, our food supply. But listen to the commercials on radio and TV and the aforementioned companies have demagogued Prop 37 to a very likely defeat. What is most maddening that in the past Monsanto was once actually supportive of GMO labeling . . . before the firm decided to pour millions of dollars into defeating it here in California and the U.S.

Food companies have routinely claimed that Prop 37 would increase food costs because of the new labeling requirements–a dubious claim at best. The tsunami of out-of-state contributions has overwhelmed the efforts of small local companies such as Straus Family Dairy. Meanwhile other companies, including Whole Foods, have spoken out in support of the initiative but have not backed up the effort with money.

California’s ridiculous ballot initiative process took root over a century ago when much of the state’s government was riddled with corruption. But as is the case with many political reform movements, what worked back then is seriously flawed now.

First, it is absurd that Californians must vote on complicated legislation. We have a legislature to do this job for its residents; if voters disagree with decisions made in Sacramento, they have a solution: elections. Despite gerrymandering and the state’s polarized politics, Californians in the past have shown that they will throw the rascals out if necessary. Let the legislators hash out what is best for the state and its citizens–and let them lose their jobs if they make the wrong decisions. The collapse of support for Proposition 37 is a textbook case of how opponents of such a measure can find success by funding a negative campaign that confuses and jades voters. If Californians end up perplexed over an initiative, they simply vote no–and hence is Prop 37’s possible fate when the polls close this evening.

Next, the fact that out-of-state money can affect local elections is criminal. Little can be done on this front because of the impact of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision 2010; nonetheless Californians’ have got to find a way to limit the influence of companies whose operations are based outside of the state. And so the distortion of the facts behind 37, from the costs of labeling to harm to farmers, dominates the airwaves. Small businesses within the food sector that contribute to California’s economy should have an equal say to the Monsantos and PepsiCo’s of the world.

Proposition 37 has its flaws, such as confusing terminology over what is and is not a GMO product, but is a starting point to strengthen our food supply and guarantee its safety for the long term. The decision should be made by debate and analysis of the facts; not a $45.6 million effort generated to buy an electoral outcome.

Maplight’s analysis of funding for and against Prop 37 and who provided it.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable BusinessInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter.

[Image credits: NorthernLassUK: Flickr Creative Commons;, Screenshot]

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

28 responses

  1. Thank you for an honest assessment, something missing in the mainstream press. Simple. Clear, doesn’t cost a dime. Lawsuits were already provided for. The provision in the initiative allows the company to correct within 30 days without penalty. It has no 25 % for lawyers. Food is not more expensive in any of the 60 countries where it is labeled.

  2. Good points. The one thing I don’t totally agree with is the “outside money” thing. Since this law affects much more than California, and affects non-california companies, it seems reasonable that outsiders should be able to voice their opinion. But still, there’s a line somewhere between opinion and $40+ Million dollars.

    Those dang trial lawyers! Too bad you only spend a dime if you’re big ad or if you eat only junk food.


  3. There is no reason NOT to label GMO. People HAVE THE RIGHT to know what they are eating. It wont cost anymore as companies routinely change their labels, and even if it did, they make hundreds of millions a year in profits and don’t pay tax, as if they can’t afford it. It’s obvious why the huge companies using GMO’s don’t want their customers to know what is in the food they are eating, they are poisoning them on purpose, it’s blatantly obvious…

  4. I think another problem is that this really isn’t about GMOs as a health risk. There is no direct health risk (at least not any more than eating junk processed food in general).

    The problem with GMOs is the patent system which basically means out entire food supply gets controlled by a handful of companies. That’s scary.

    What’s really ironic is I don’t think most people will change their habits much regardless of a label. But this prop does raise costs for the processed food companies. That doesn’t bother me. Higher junk food costs might mean less people eating junk.

    Vote yes.

  5. Even if the measure is flawed, why do people want to side with these
    huge corporations? I don’t think prop 37 is confusing at all and don’t
    trust multi-billion dollar corporations like Monsanto, I’m voting YES on
    Prop 37!

  6. It is criminal that companies have the power to sway voter outcome in their favor. But why people are so easily fooled by their self-interested ads is also something I find hard to understand. Do people really think that Monsanto cares about the general public?
    And another thing: this is merely a measure to provide labeling. It says so much that the big companies are willing to spend over $45 million to defeat a measure for a simple label. They clearly have a lot to gain by keeping the public in the dark.

    1. Yes, it angers me too. All one has to do is look at the small print in the commercials and see who is funding the “No on 37 campaign” Monsanto doesn’t care about anyone. Read the stories online about death threats being made in other countries where people were standing against them.

  7. YES ON PROP 37!!! If GMO & GE “food” is so good for us, why isn’t it labeled yesterday, last week, month, year, decade? Like a BigFoodCorpse executive said years ago “If you label it, might as well put a skull and crossbones on it” YES ON Prop 37!!! thank you!!!

  8. One of the biggest lies being spread is how it will cost more money. It requires a few simple words on a label and food companies change labels all the time! What if they received a heart healthy logo from the AHA, or if it became “good for you” they would change labels immediately! Think about when “low fat” or “low carb” or “no trans fat” became the new health standard! They all changed their labels and even their recipes to attract more people to their products. I can’t believe people would actually vote “NO” on 37! So you’re voting against your own right to know that something you consume can be potentially harmful to your health? Are you serious? PROP 37 should be the standard across America! It angers me that we were never given a choice on these GMO foods infiltrating our food system yet we have to vote to have a right to know. Even third world countries have banned GMO foods or at least label them. We have every bleeping right to know! I HOPE MONSANTO AND ALL THE GMO PRODUCERS GO DOWN! EVIL freakin’ corporations.

    1. You clearly have no idea of what is involved to change labels for one state. the supply chains changes would most definitely cost the consumer. you condemnation, does it also apply to every world food safety authority and every health authority that support the safe use of GM crops and food?

      1. Robert, you clearly have no idea what’s involved, because I have seen it done first hand and it costs no more than it would to add any other descriptor to a label. Please end your erroneous claims now.

      2. How much more did it cost to implement the new safety in packaging (especially on jars) and add special seals on almost everything we consume? It’s the same thing. We absorbed the cost (no one I know ever felt it) and moved on because we knew we’d be protected. The GMO question is a no brainer and I live by, “When in doubt do without.”

  9. I voted YES on Prop 37! I plan to avoid purchasing anything from those who supported the No side since they must have something to hide if they can’t label their food. I plan to make a list of those that supported the YES side and will make an effort to look into buying what they’re selling (i.e. Lundberg Family Farms, Dr. Bronner’s soap, Dr. Mercola- I just purchased a water filter). I find it sad that money can buy elections. Educate yourself and your family to stay away from GMO’s if you care about your health. Don’t wait for the U.S. to provide studies about GMO’s (tumors, etc.) because our news (TV and newspapers) is not going to tell you. They are funded by those who give them $$$$ so we’ll never get the truth. If you aren’t educated about GMO’s start searching the Internet and get reading, your health will depend on it.

  10. Lets talk about outside money. The only reason that this initiative is on the ballot is because of the guy at the top of the “yes” contribution list – Dr. Mercola. He is an out of state internet hawker of dietary supplements and a first class scaremonger. He has long been a spokesperson for anti-vaccination. He supports the idea that all cancers are just fungal infections that can be cured with an injection of backing soda. It was his money that paid for the people who went out and got the signatures by telling people this was a simple “right to know” initiative when it is anything but that.

    1. Totally wrong, it was a coalition. No one person led the effort. And it will succeed because 90% of us want to know what we’re eating. Go peddle you slander on Mars.

      1. Its not 90% – you lost. Get a grip. So you are saying that everybody who voted against labeling is stupid or was bought by the money the companies spend on adds? I agree to gmo labeling IF all breeding has to label their genetic changes too. YOU don’t know the first thing about the science behind it.

    2. Doesn’t sound like you know much about Mercola. He entertains all kinds of ideas, and talks about them out of interest, but does NOT support them all – your baking soda cancer cure is just one such thing. He found it interesting and reported it, but was neutral on it. And hey, I’m with him on the vaccine thing – in this day and age, with the amazing amount of info, my personal position is that to not think vaccination warrants further investigation is just ignorant.

  11. I’m sure you people supporting prop 37 also are against prop 32 and for prop 30. I suppose it’s OK for unions to spend tens of millions of dollars to influence voters, right?

  12. its a good prop which i doubt will pass. ultimately however, it has its loopholes. alcohol wont need to be labeled and neither will products made from gmo derivatives. uhh… yeah, thats basically EVERYTHING lol. so there will still be gmos slipping by your selection unknowingly… however, it wont pass anyways. world is too stupid

  13. This really doesn’t fly. Practically every major newspaper from the LA Times to the SF Chronicle were against this proposition. Their main issue was that it forced most responsibilities onto retailers rather than food companies. This is what people voted against, not about higher food prices.

  14. A sad sad day for California, and for the U.S.A., a clear sign that paid-for misinformation and fear tactics WORK. I live in Paris where it’s a given that no one knows what health horrors these GMO’s will cause down the line so they’re avoided at all costs, along with artificial sweeteners and food additives. I’ve yet to meet a single person here with a food allergy (except for American tourists). Monsanto btw doesn’t allow GMO’s in its cafeterias.

  15. Hmmmm
    Really “craters” you have got to be kidding. Polls consistently have shown overwhelming support for prop 37. (other than the bogus “polls” paid for by corps.)If this “initiative” fails it is because someone is flipping votes…….There is no way the Californians would vote against something this good for them. Even the most casual observer realizes immediately that voting against prop 37 only benefits the big corporations and actually endangers consumers. I say it again the vote on this has been hacked and the results flipped…….

  16. Morons. All of you are morons who voted “no”. How can GMO labeling cost any more than all the other details, like ingredients, that have to already be on labels? You simply listened to the money ads from Monsanto and can’t think for yourselves. You are stupid morons. Monsanto is going to destroy the health of the world for profit and you just helped them. Complete freakin’ idiots.

  17. I agreed with the writer of this article. This also shows that the merit of a proposition matters little when the factor of money comes into play. Money can buy anything and get people to buy anything even if it’s a lie. What sadden me is that those who are informed can see the deceitful tactics of the opposition and try their best to bring it to light but for now it worked. The end justified the means once again. Nevertheless, I believe just as long as those who cares about our health and the environment we lived in, do not give up the good fight then this battle is not over.

  18. I think it is valuable that the public actually gets to vote on big legislative measures. I agree with you in that controlling the outside funding is the issue. What conversations are happening to control out of state funding or funding in general? & is there any big movement aside from Story of Stuff that is working to kill “Citizens United?”

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