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September 29th, 2012

Prop 37 Countdown: How Much Confusion Can $32 Million Buy?

By Eric Anderson

If there’s one David and Goliath fight coming up this election season, it’s California’s Prop 37. As you’ve probably heard by now, this initiative would require that foods containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients be labeled as such in California, something that nearly 50 other nations have already done. Right now in the U.S., there are no requirements that GE foods be labeled, leaving consumers in the dark about what they are eating.

The fight over Prop 37 has created a sharp divide between consumers and corporations. On the one hand, polling shows that over 90 percent of people nationwide favor mandatory GE labeling. In California, support for Prop 37 hovers around 61 percent compared to 25 percent against. These high levels of support demonstrate that most consumers, regardless of political persuasion, agree that mandatory GE labeling in no way limits consumer choice and in fact helps consumers make more informed decisions about what they purchase.

Many food corporations, on the other hand, view Prop 37 as a threat to their profits. Right now, the opposition has raised $32 million, $7.1 million alone from Monsanto. And the most telling part is that, as of now, not a single individual has contributed to the opposition; all contributions came from large corporations.

Opponents of Prop 37 primarily fall into two camps: food manufacturers and pesticide companies. Roughly $19 million of the $32 million raised by the opposition has come from the worlds largest pesticide companies that have been dubbed the “Big Six:” Monsanto, DuPont, BASF, Dow, Bayer and Syngenta. These companies see GE crops – and their corresponding pesticides, herbicides and fungicides – as their primary source of future profit potential.

Among the highest contributing food manufacturers are PepsiCo, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, ConAgra, General Mills, Kellogg and Hershey. Many of these manufacturers own “all natural” brands like Sun Chips, Naked Juice, and Kashi, all of which most likely contain GE ingredients. If Prop 37 passes, no food containing GE ingredients could be labeled “natural,” which makes sense because inserting genes from one plant, animal, or microorganism into the DNA of an entirely different species in a laboratory isn’t exactly natural.

So far, opponents of Prop 37 are just beginning to flood the airways with pro-GE messaging as they try to confuse voters with false claims. Ultimately, this fight will most likely come down to a battle of money vs. facts. The question is, can $32 million buy enough confusion to make people doubt their convictions? We believe that on as clear and simple of an issue as this one, facts will always have the upper hand. As Prop 37’s Assistant Media Director Zack Kaldveer points out, $32.5 million may buy a lot of things, but it can’t buy facts.

In the coming weeks leading up to the election, we will look at Prop 37 from various angles. We’ll examine the health and environmental impacts of GE crops, the issue of corporate control of our food system and the issue of consumer choice. And as the election nears, we will be examining the opposition’s campaign strategies and breaking down their arguments against GE labeling. Stay tuned!

Eric is an online organizing intern in Food & Water Watch’s San Francisco office.

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