The defeat of California’s Proposition 37 last November was a low point for the anti-GMO movement. The loss at the polls came after months of massive spending by Big Food entities, which is widely attributed to the proposition’s plumetting polling numbers after an early lead.
The loss, however, has done little to stifle anti-GMO efforts. Late last week, in fact, sponsors of a measure to require labels on genetically modified foods in Washington State turned in petitions signed by an estimated 350,000 registered voters—at least 100,000 more signatures than required—the Washington secretary of state reports. This all but guarantees the I-522 legislation will move forward, either by being taken up by the state’s legislature or by being voted on in a November special election.
With labeling initiatives in the works in at least nine other state legislatures, and national polls indicating that more than 90 percent of Americans favor GMO food labeling, some are now asking: What if, instead of striking a demoralizing blow to national efforts, the failure of Prop. 37 actually galvanized the movement?
Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, which was a big supporter of Prop. 37, is mindful that almost half the voters—48.5 percent, according to the most recent tally—voted in favor of the ballot measure. Nationally, Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of more labeling. He wonders how long food companies will continue to fight against their own customers.
“If we think of [the 48.5 percent] in terms of market share, I think the food companies should be nervous, and I think they are nervous,” Cook says. “The issue’s not going to go away. These [campaigns] are going to just keep coming. We have supporters in every state.”
Washington appears to be the next battleground for this issue on the state level, with petition sponsors expecting to hear whether their legislation has been accepted by the Secretary of State’s office sometime after January 18. And in New Mexico, lawmakers will debateproposed legislation later this year that would mandate labeling in the state.
Cook says organizers in every state should look closely at why the bill failed in California. “Lesson number 1: If you try these ballot measures, like every other election, money is like yeast, and we didn’t have the early money,” says Cook. “[Corporate interests] were able to spend millions before we were even able to respond. We didn’t have the money.”
While state-level initiatives continue, other groups are focusing their attention on passing labeling legislation at the national level. Among them is the Just Label It (JLI) campaign, a national coalition of more than 600 diverse organizations working for the mandatory federal labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods. JLI supported the ballot initiative in California, but spokeswoman Sue McGovern says its primary focus over the past year and a half has been effecting change at the federal level “so all Americans can enjoy the right to know about what is in their food.” Just Label It led the drive to gather public comments on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) petition for GE foods labeling, an effort that generated a record 1.3 million comments, the most comments on any food petition in FDA history.
“Just Label It always supports local states’ efforts,” McGovern says, “although we feel the issue will be decided on the national level ultimately.”
Here is a state-by-state rundown of active GMO labeling bills and campaigns:
Arizona: GMO-Free Phoenix
California: California Right to Know
Colorado: GMO-Free Colorado
Connecticut: Northeast Organic Farming Association, CT Chapter (Proposed Bill: HB 5117)
Florida: Label GMO Florida
Hawaii: Label It Hawaii (Proposed Bill: HB 2034/SB 2443)
Idaho: GMO-Free Idaho
Illinois: GMO Free Illinois
Massachusetts: Northeast Organic Farming Association, MA Chapter (Proposed Bill: H3276)
Michigan: No GMO 4 Michigan
Minnesota: Right to Know Minnesota (Proposed Bill: S.F. 2563)
New Jersey: Label GMOs in New Jersey (Proposed Bill: HB 1367)
North Carolina: (Proposed Bill: HB 446)
Ohio: GMO Free Ohio
Oregon: GMO Free Oregon (Proposed Bills: SB 517 & HB 3346)
Utah: GMO Free Utah
Vermont: Vermont Right to Know GMO (Proposed Bill: HB 722)
Virginia: (Proposed Bill: HB 606)
Washington: Label It Washington (Bill Title: HB 2637)
For up-to-date information on the status of state legislation, visitOpenStates.org.
Millions Against Monsanto (the Organic Consumers’ Association)