Genetically Modified Corn Proposition 37 GMODespite significant popular support for the labeling of genetically modified foods in recent polls, when it came time to vote on election day, Californians rejected Proposition 37, which would have required businesses to label products containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Proponents of Proposition 37 argued that the labeling requirements would provide consumers with valuable information that would allow them to make better purchasing decisions. Opponents countered that labels would mislead consumers by creating the impression that GMOs are harmful to human health.

Many attribute the loss to a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign against the proposition funded largely by agriculture and food companies like Monsanto (MON), PepsiCo (PEP), Coca-Cola (KO), Kraft (KRFT), and Kellogg (K). Opponents of Proposition 37 raised at least $45 million to affect voter sentiment, while supporters of the proposed law -- mostly consumer advocacy groups -- raised only about $8 million.

Was it a fair fight?

Prop 37 advocates complain that their defeat wasn't merely due to being outspent, but also due to opponents using deceptive marketing practices to shift public opinion. One example called out was a mailing to state residents which used the FDA logo and a quote saying, "The US Food and Drug Administration says a labeling policy like Prop 37 would be 'inherently misleading.'" FDA spokesperson Morgan Liscinsky later pointed out that the FDA did not make this statement or express any opinion on the proposed legislation.

Valuable Tool or Unnecessary Information?

If Prop 37 had passed, the law would have forbidden food companies from labeling foods with GMO ingredients as "natural," "naturally made," "naturally grown," or "all natural." Businesses would have had to label raw GMO produce as "genetically engineered," and to label all processed foods containing GMOs as "partially produced with genetic engineering," or "may be partially produced with genetic engineering."

The law also would have empowered consumers to stand up to companies that label their products inaccurately by making it possible for them to win lawsuits against food companies without having to prove specific damages resulting from the labeling violation.

While Big Ag argued that studies haven't shown GMOs are harmful to human health, Prop 37 advocates point out that most industry-funded studies last only 90 days. And although the Food and Drug Administration has deemed GMOs safe for human consumption, proponents worry that the FDA doesn't actually test these foods before they go to market, and so they don't have sufficient evidence to declare these goods safe.

Other advocates argue that even if GMOs are safe to eat, mandatory labeling would provide valuable information for consumers who worry about the sustainability of GMO farming, and its potential to breed "superbugs."

The fight over Prop 37 isn't just a California issue: Opponents were worried the law would set a precedent for the rest of the country to pick up the anti-GMO torch. In fact, about 93% of the money raised to turn voters against the law came from outside the state.

Advocates in Washington state, Connecticut, and Vermont are pushing to require labeling in their own states. Others are trying to utilize the national awareness arising from California's campaign to gain signatures on a petition asking the FDA to require labeling of GMO foods nationally.

Do you think Prop 37's requirements would have been good for consumers? Would you like your home state to push for similar legislation? Chime in below!

Motley Fool contributor M. Joy Hayes, Ph.D., is the Principal at ethics consulting firm Courageous Ethics. She doesn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned. Follow @JoyofEthics on Twitter.





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42 Comments

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jeff

Ads opposing Prop 37 made it sound like the required labeling of GMOs would increase our grocery bill, force farmers out of business, and that the labeling would be somewhat arbitrary and totally unfair. For example they said that beef would require no label, but that dog food would. Using their vast financial resources, opponents mislead and confused the public. This outrageous to read here that an opposing ad falsely used the FDA's logo. It seems like there should be some accountability for the false ads.

November 30 2012 at 11:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
freethedems2012

It is healthiest to grow your own food. Period.

November 19 2012 at 4:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
logan2445

i am not christian or religious in anyway, but to everyone out there that is did you ever stop to think that this is taking gods will and corrupting it for profit? after all, if its not broke - dont fix it.

November 17 2012 at 4:56 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to logan2445's comment
Bob Hill

You know what "logan2445", you may not profess to be "religious", but you display more common sense than so many people that claim to be religious. My hat's off to you!!!!

November 17 2012 at 5:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
yearsocrapleft

quit your $8--$9 an hour job as we urge all americans to sign up for obamas welfare ,section ~8 ,food stamps,cause all blacks ,ricans , n illegal immigrants are robbing it ~~you wil make more money on welfare

November 17 2012 at 4:37 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
gelleybean

Prop 37 failed because the backers launched a campaign telling Californian's that IF it passed their food bills would rise by at the very least $400.00. The $$$ is the bottom line for many many people with limited funds.I was so shocked when it did not pass because I want to know what I am eating. Luckily for me I live within 4 miles of several actual fruit/ vegetable stand's and we have about 6 Farmer's Markets here. I try to grow what I can BUT I still use canned beans.....tomatoes....olive oil......and it irks me to not know the food source or if it has been "MONSANTOD"!!!!!!!!

November 17 2012 at 1:23 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
defelicep

GMO's are BANNED in 51 countries (even Russia) but legal here? I guess Monsanto couldn't buy the Government in those countries. We have one of the highest disease rates in the world and we're the only ones that produce GMO's and HFCS. Makes you wonder. Also, as a real estate professional, it's interesting that when you buy a home, the laws make you disclose everything about it including water seepage in the basement, etc. So the law makers think the people have the right to know if water gets into a basement but doesn't have the right to know what's in your food?

November 17 2012 at 12:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
philipt

Prop 37 died because california couldnt run a lemonade stand if you gave them free lemonade... passing the bill meant setting up a new branch of government to determine what labels should go where, and to fine violators... Any one who lives in CA knows that whatever estimated costs are for a branch of State government, the reality becomes 5 times greater - funded by the already drained tax payer

November 16 2012 at 11:42 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Brooke!

This is disgusting.

November 16 2012 at 11:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Judith

A very important part of GMO products that is not mentioned here, is that they are trademarked. When Monsato and other manufactures plant a crop and the seed blows into/onto another farmers land and grows there, the farmer is libel for growing trademarked produce without consent and can be sued by Monsato. This has already happened and it's put many small farmers out of business. I don't expect you to take my word for this, but do some research and you'll definitly find stories about this.

November 16 2012 at 8:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Judith's comment
yearsocrapleft

keep fighting this muslim clown back till the whole country goes into depression~~abolish this muslim clowns welfare "hell" care noww. ! ~~deport all illegal immigrants ~

November 17 2012 at 4:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to yearsocrapleft's comment
logan2445

you sound schizophrenic babbling about muslim clowns - what are you talking about?

November 17 2012 at 5:12 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down
ChrisSand

Google Monsanto and Percy to find out how one Canadian farmer tried to stand up for his rights. He had to go through some pretty horrific years of dealing with seed that had blown into his field. So many other farmers just give in because they can't afford to be sued. This is one brave guy.

November 23 2012 at 9:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michael Greening

I will start this comment with a complete admission.
I am in California and own a food manufacturing company. I read the entire Prop 37 several times, making sure I completely understood every aspect of it and what it actually meant.

The problem with Prop 37 wasn't the need for consumers to know what is in their food, it was that Prop 37 was full of holes and was so incomplete that it would have only caused confusion and unfounded fear among consumers.
Under Prop 37, all meats, dairy products, alcohol and restaurants were exempt. Any meat could have been fed all the GMO feed and filled with hormones but you wouldn't know it.

The biggest killer world wide is Heart Disease and the largest contributing factor to Heart Disease is the consumption of animal products, being meats, cheeses, milk and eggs. The saturated fat and cholesterol in these is the problem we need to address. (I am an avid meat eater as well)

The way 37 was written, Alcohol was exempt because it is distilled and that destroys all genetic DNA of any genetically engineered organism. Distilled Vinegar was not exempt even though it is made the same way.
With Prop 37, the consumer would be more afraid of the completely harmless vinegar in the mustard that was on the hot dog they were eating instead of the hot dog itself, which is what they should be concerned about.

If someone went to a grocery store to buy popcorn, the popcorn would have to be labeled as GMO. There would also have to be a sign above the popcorn saying that it is GMO. However if that same person went to a movie theater and wanted to buy popcorn, the theater wouldn't have to tell them that it was GMO. This creates a confused and ill informed consumer.

Going after the GMO foods in our food supply is equivilant to going out in your yard and pulling a blade of grass because the 50 foot tree is blocking your view. There are much bigger things in our diets that we should be concerned about.

I'm not saying foods shouldn't be labeled and that the consumer doesn't have a right to know, only that Prop 37 was not the answer. If it were complete and intelligently written, I would have supported it whole heartedly, but the way it was done was for nothing more than to scare consumers into buying expensive organic foods and to foster lawsuits.

One thing the above article left out was on the "Violations". There didn't have to be any violation, only an "ALLEDGED" violation for someone to sue the store, the food manufacturer and the company(s) that distributed it. They could sue for the price of the item on the shelf, (every one of them) and for damages even though they didn't have to prove any damages.

I also agree with most of the sentiments about Monsanto. They are not my favorite company either but I am glad they put up so much money to defeat this ill concieved proposition.

I sincerely hope in the future a new one is proposed that is complete and informative to the consumer.

November 16 2012 at 5:05 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Michael Greening's comment
Bob Hill

Well Michael, your explanation of the more intricate "ins and outs" of Prop 37 may have some merit. However, when the dust finally settled, the fact still remains that any thinking person who is truly concerned about the health of himself and that of his family has a right to know what's in the food they consume. And clearly ANY foodstuff that is genetically modified (vegetables, fruits) or contains GMO ingredients presents a hazard to a person's health and wellbeing. This reality is clearly manifesting itself in the proliferation of major health problems that have been developing over the years since GMO foods have been consumed, especially here in the States. Sadder still is how this food is negatively affecting children; kids in this day and age are now dealing with ailments that years ago were generally not experienced until a person reached their senior years or at least by middle age. And a good 80-90% of it can be traced and is traced back to the consuming of GMO foods. Oh yes, I already know that there is going to be strong disagreement with the statement I just made. But, the painful results that people have to live with -- and die -- with aren't going away because people don't want to face the truth.

As for me personally, I am not a litigious person. Nor am I wealthy or even well-to-do. But I know and appreciate the value of good health and what it truly takes to maintain and keep it. And you best believe that I will do whatever it takes to avoid putting ANYTHING in my mouth that (A) has a proven record of working against good health or (B) is vague or obscurant about it's ingredients. So, if that means I've got to cough up a little more to shop at stores like Whole Foods Market and avoid the more conventional food stores to get my organic foods, that's what I'm going to continue to do, up to my last dime if necessary. And you would do well to realize that there are a growing number of people who feel the same way.

November 17 2012 at 12:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply