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Food Movement Still Simmering after California Prop 37 Vote

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Should a label tell you which grocery store items are made from genetically modified foods with laboratory-altered genes? 4.2 million California voters think so.  But another 4.8 million voted against the labeling requirement described in Proposition 37.  Right-to-Know advocates say this referendum defeat won’t stop their popular and ever-growing movement.  Campaign co-chair Dave Murphy of Food Democracy Now said on the day following the election, “We fundamentally believe this is a dynamic moment for the food movement and we’re going forward.”

Right-to-Know organizers say we can watch for more citizens’ ballot initiatives ahead in Washington state and possibly Oregon, while Vermont and Connecticut legislatures may be taking up the GMO labeling issue. Of course, the Just Label It campaign has already used a million-strong citizens’ petition urging the Food and Drug Administration to get involved. Plus, GMO-labeling supporters are behind a consumer information campaign to help everyone in the United States vote with their grocery dollars.

As California’s Official Voter Information Guide shows in its summary breakdown of both sides of Prop 37, opponents called it a “Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme.”  The No on Prop 37 coalition of mostly mega corporations outspent the other side with more than 40-million dollars in television ads.  Prop 37 organizers explained in a post-election briefing that their mostly volunteer-delivered messages couldn’t compete with the barrage of advertisements.  The Organic Consumers Association accused opponents of “dirty tricks.”  Aside from the specifics of whether California’s proposed rule would have worked, consumers remain largely unaware of this larger issue about what’s in 8 out of 10 processed foods.

Flour Sack Mama asked Prop 37 organizers, “Please address criticisms that this GMO labeling food movement is elitist, extreme or even counter to conventional farming’s effort to feed the world and counter to budget-consciousness of modest households?”  Spokesperson Stacy Malkan answered, “This is largely a movement of moms and grandmothers who were out on the streets organizing to pass Prop 37 because they want the right to know what’s in their food. This is personal to them — they want to be the ones making decisions about what they eat and feed their families. There’s nothing elitist about this; this is about bedrock American values.  The opposition tried to make this about everything but the real issues. For example their false ads that costs would increase; the opposition never produced one shred of credible evidence that costs would increase due to Prop 37.”

One detail often overlooked on Prop 37 is that it would have stopped food companies from being able to market with the term “natural” if their products contain GMOs.  Currently, a “natural” label on food is little more than a marketing ploy, while the “USDA Organic” seal is supposed to offer specific assurances.  The Non-GMO label is a voluntary one that consumers can look for, as well.

Along with the 10,000 volunteers who tried to get out the food vote in California, dozens of family farming businesses and organic food companies support GMO labeling.  Yes on 37 co-chair Grant Lundberg of Lundberg Family Farms said that despite the California result, “I’m excited to have been a part of this.  It will continue to be a grassroots movement.”

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