California Voters Reject Prop 37 to Label GMO Foods

Food movement suffers setback after corporations spend millions to defeat initiative.
Proposition 37 lost narrowly on Nov. 6, but a brand-new poll has found that a majority of California voters still believe they have a right to know whether their food is genetically engineered. (Photo: Getty Images)
Nov 7, 2012· 1 MIN READ
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

A little over 500,000 votes stood between California voters who campaigned for the right to know if their food contains genetically modified ingredients and those who opposed the measure when Proposition 37 was defeated in yesterday’s election.

Back in August, support for the labeling initiative was strong, with over 65 percent of Californians in favor of Prop 37, but by October 30, support had dwindled to just over 39 percent after ads opposing the measure began blanketing airwaves across the state—a nearly $46 million tactic made possible by corporations including Monsanto, DuPont, Dow AgriSciences and food companies like Kellogg’s, Kraft Foods, General Mills, Coca Cola, PepsiCo and more. Compare that to the Yes on 37 campaign’s $9 million in funding, much of which came in late in the campaign.

RELATED: 18 Companies That Oppose GMO Food Labeling

“This was an impossible task,” Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now and co-chair on the Yes on 37 Campaign, tells TakePart. “We put together a ballot initiative with very little in the way of resources. We were underfunded and underresourced against the most powerful corporations on the planet.”

But, he says, last night was still an important milestone in the move to get labeling of genetically modified ingredients onto packaging. Indeed, despite the loss, advocates are already working on getting it on the ballot for the 2013 election cycle in Washington state.

“Oregon will be after that,” says Murphy. “And there’s an effort to create a federal labeling standard. We’re going to try and hold Barack Obama to his promise to label genetically engineered food.”

While California is the latest in a string of defeats for the food movement, including efforts to pass labeling regulations in Connecticut and Vermont, it is on the radar of government officials. As we reported last month, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak addressed a question on Proposition 37 at the American Agriculture Law Association, telling the crowd that “Maybe it's time to think about it from a national perspective.”

“Today is not the end of our campaign to secure our fundamental right to know what’s in our food,” says a statement issued by the California Right To Know Campaign. “It is a strong beginning, and we thank the millions of Californians who stood with us.”

More on GMO Foods:

10 Companies that Support GMO Food Labeling

5 Certified GMO-Free Breakfast Ideas

18 Companies That Oppose GMO Food Labeling