By Anonymous (not verified) on November 19, 2012

Seated at his desk behind stacks of organic vegetable seeds, California farmer and storeowner Steve Sprinkle scowled as he pondered the downfall of the country’s most promising attempt yet to label genetically engineered food.

“It all came down to finances,” he concluded of the Nov. 6 voter defeat of state ballot proposition 37. “The democratic system has been corrupted by money.”

Two weeks after the election, Sprinkle and other backers of California’s Right To Know campaign remain adamant the measure failed because of opposition dollar-power, not a genuine lack of public support. Early in the campaign, polls showed a majority of people in the state favored Proposition 37. Then biotech giant Monsanto and its allies stepped in with a $46-million negative advertising blitz, quashing the $9 million raised by the “yes” side.

“You can’t fight this monolith: Dow, DuPont, Monsanto,” Sprinkle said, listing companies that supported the no campaign. “I hoped (Prop 37) would win, but I knew if it did it would be a miracle.”

The “No on 37” message pounded the labeling proposal, claiming it would lead to higher grocery prices and create problems for small farmers, while claiming that genetically engineered foods (GMOs) are safe.

Supporters of Prop 37 maintained that GMOs have not been adequately tested and could pose harm to people and the environment. They accused the opposition of trying to scare the public with inaccurate information while skirting the purpose of the proposed law.

“People should have the choice to know what’s in their food,” said Bill Haff, a Prop 37 organizer in Ojai, Calif. “Then the industry would have to justify their practices. Then there’d have to be a discussion. That’s what they don’t want.”

Prop 37’s defeat is the most prominent setback so far for the anti-GMO movement. In 2011, food activists and concerned legislators tried to pass labeling laws in 19 states only to see those efforts dropped after Monsanto threatened to sue Vermont and Connecticut, said Dave Murphy, founder of the advocacy group Food Democracy Now.

“Monsanto basically had them over the barrel,” Mr. Murphy said.

The United States’ unwillingness to label genetically modified food contrasts starkly with dozens of other countries around the world where labeling is the norm, including China, Japan and Australia. The European Union has required labels on products containing GMOs since 1997.

David Vogel, a UC Berkley professor with expertise in U.S. and European regulatory policy, said Europe’s labeling law resulted in part from greater public mistrust of government food safety claims. In the U.S., people don’t have the same qualms about the food system and there is little concern over GMOs, he said. Consumers in the U.S. can also avoid GMOs already by choosing products labeled organic, Vogel added.

“It’s not a highly visible issue,” he said. “It’s not a politically salient issue in the U.S.”

That’s changing, Murphy insisted. Four years ago when he started campaigning, barely anyone knew what GMOs were, he recalled. Since then, millions of people have grasped the potential hazards of genetically engineered food and other modern agricultural practices, he said.

In the case of California’s proposition, 5.3 million people -- nearly 48 percent of voters – supported the bill. That’s a huge number, activists noted.

Murphy predicted America would have a GMO-labeling law within the next two years. Organizers are close to obtaining enough signatures to put another proposition on the ballot in Washington State next November. After that, they will move on to Oregon, he said.

“All we need is one brave state and one brave governor to stand up for the American people,” Murphy said. “There is a crime taking place in our food and agricultural system.”

For Sprinkle, change will come down to consumers themselves. People have to demand GMO-free products in their stores, much as they have done with organic food, he said.

“You can’t expect the regulators or the system to respond to you,” Sprinkle said. “Bottom line is, now we all have to go out and make these requests.”


Now's a great time to subscribe to The Progressive magazine. You'll get a FREE copy of our 2013 "Hidden History of the United States" calendar when you subscribe for just $14.97 for the whole year. That's 75% off the newsstand price, and the calendar is yours for free. Just click here.

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

More

In his latest ad buy, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker attacks his Democratic opponent Mary Burke for making millions...

 

By Josh Healey

Gaza is a shtetl. The Israeli army are cossacks. Palestinians are my...

The IMF and the World Bank may finally have a rival.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project

Newsletter

Get Breaking News and Alerts!