I don’t think I could provide anyone with a better example of the madness and hypocrisy that plagues the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) debate, than what is currently happening in California around the campaign to label GMO – or Proposition 37.
What is Proposition 37?
This year, over 1 Million Californians signed a petition seeking a referendum on the labelling of GMO products, far more than the 500 thousand odd signatures required to force a ballot. Enter Proposition 37, a ballot to require mandatory labelling of GMO foods in California.
Why is it needed? Well, at this point in time, there is absolutely no requirement to label GMO products in the US. This means that the entire US population is eating GMO foods every single day, without knowing it, and worst of all, without the ability to make the personal choice to avoid it.
Almost all countries that allow GMO foods into their food supply, including Australia (although Australia’s system is very poor – but that’s another story), have some form of labelling requirement. But this is not the case for Canada and the US, and many Americans are beginning to wake up to the concerns about GMO foods.
The labelling debate is one that has been going on for a very long time in the US. There have been numerous attempts to bring in labelling requirements, but every single one has failed in the process, largely due to the influence that Monsanto and their corporate allies hold in the corridors of power.
Proposition 37 is a bit different however, as it is a straight out public ballot, so there is limited opportunity for corporate influence. Or at least one may have been forgiven for thinking as much, but it appears someone has forgotten to tell the corporate sector.
In the face of this oncoming (November 6) labelling referendum, the corporate sector, headed appropriately by Monsanto, are mounting a huge fear and confusion campaign to turn the tide of public opinion. This week alone saw $23 million in corporate support for the campaign, with much more predicted to come in over the next few weeks. Monsanto stands at the front of the queue, with a $4.2 million investment in the ‘No on 37 Coalition’.
I say investment, because Monsanto has a lot to lose in this ballot. The current thinking is, should this campaign be successful – and current polls suggest anywhere from 69% – 93% support – it is likely that the rest of the US will follow closely behind, even if only because companies won’t be able to label only for the Californian market. This is a market that represents over 10% of the country, an economy which on its own is the 8th biggest in the world.
Some have said that should proposition 37 get up, many companies will simply cease using GMO ingredients in their products. Given that 90% of US corn is currently GMO corn, it’s no wonder Monsanto, Pepsi, Kelloggs, and co. are worried.
But, it seems to me that someone has forgotten to explain to these opponents of labelling, what I think is a very sweet irony – that by actively and visibly campaigning to deny the Californian people the right to choose, these companies are only feeding the growing global distrust of GMOs in our food system. After all, if there’s nothing wrong with GMOs, what could these companies have to fear?
With the amount of money involved (I’ve read suggestions that the ‘No on 37’ campaign could raise $100 million), the outcome of this situation is anything but certain. What is certain however, is that the next few months will be fascinating to watch. This really is a battle of people vs power.
My feeling is that the corporate sector is hopelessly compromised on this one. Even if they somehow manage to win in California, they will only be able to do so by publicly flexing the muscles they rarely like to show in public. It will be clear for all to see, just how much influence these corporations have over our Governments and our lives.
What the Occupy movement has achieved over the past 12 months means that the global populous is far more tuned in to the corporate hand in politics. It is my hope that groups like Occupy will get behind proposition 37 and use it to highlight the need for reform that goes far beyond the issue of GMOs alone.
Proposition 37 might be a ballot affecting only Californians in real terms, but in general terms this ballot could have far broader repercussions for GMO technology and its acceptance on a global scale.
Historically, in battles of people vs power, people have rarely won. But one can’t help but feel that the environment is ripe for a change in California.
If you’re in a position to do so, try to get involved and help push Proposition 37 through.
For more information about this campaign, go to: www.carighttoknow.org