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RIP, Food Transparency and Proposition 37

Words by Leon Kaye

Election 2012 was full of surprises. At press time, we watched a president give his re-election speech far earlier than most observers had believed it would occur. In southern California, longtime public transportation foe Henry Waxman, who long fought an underground subway in L.A. before he was for it, is currently losing to an independent. And Proposition 37 is heading to defeat after scoring an approval rating of over 60 percent two months ago.

The death of Proposition 37 should not be surprising. The blame game surely will begin with Wednesday morning quarterbacking, starting with the fact that the measure faced unrelenting opposition from leading out-of-state corporations. The fact that Monsanto et al spent money at a pace that left Proposition 37 supporters scrambling was another factor. Californians have a history, however, of spurning attempts to buy elections, so the onslaught of corporate money is not the only factor in Proposition 37’s demise.

And unlike Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 ground game to get out the vote, similar to the one led by George W. Bush during his re-election campaign in 2004, Proposition 37’s supporters and outreach were often relegated to local farmers’ markets, where they often preached to the choir about the perceived threats that come from GMOs. Of course you are going to find concerns over GMOs at a venue where heirloom vegetables and locally made cheese are the norm. What is harder is convincing people in farm country or in poorer communities about why they would benefit from more transparent labels on most of their food products.

So what is a consumer to do about an absurd world where many American companies are compliant about labeling their foods if they contain GMOs before they are distributed abroad, only to fight such an initiative tooth and nail if they are approved in California? Perhaps a more lucidly worded initiative on the ballot in a few years would perform the trick --many “no” votes cast on various initiatives are generally done so out of confusion over what the measures’ purposes mean.

Consumers can still work on pressuring companies involved with GMOs, of any sector and at any stage, by engaging those firms. Applying pressure to food manufacturers to disclose their products’ chemical make up is another small step towards food transparency. But above all, consumers have to show that they are keen on buying food products that have no GMOs--and in the long run such scale can encourage more local and organic produce as well as other foods available for local markets. Prop 37 may have sunk to a crushing defeat, but to its supporters, if it succeeded in raising awareness about food supply safety issues, then it was in its own way a long-term success.

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

Image credit: Amadscientist, Wikipedia.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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