Sacramento, CA—The ballot initiative that became a ballot measure called Proposition 37, which would have required food products containing genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such, did not pass the popular vote on Election Day in California. It went down by an estimated count of 53% to 47%, leaving Big Agribusiness companies like Monsanto and other parties that were against the measure jubilant, while advocates are left to wonder what could have been.

In the days leading up to the election, California voters were blitzed with advertisements on Prop 37, with most of the funding and messaging coming from the “No on 37” side. About $46 million was raised to defeat the measure, with Monsanto nearly outspending the “Yes on 37” side all by itself, with $8.1 million to the $8.9 in total drummed up by supporters. Voters saw commercials touting the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food, warning of an increase in grocery costs if the measure were to pass, and claiming that the measure could open up companies to frivolous lawsuits.

Many activists looked for the results on Prop 37 to be pivotal for the national movement to label GMOs in food, and to be important marker of the strength of the food movement in the United States. The silver lining, if any, for advocates may be the increased awareness of GMOs in food that was surely bred by Prop 37. Also, there remains a way for consumers to reliably avoid GMOs, notes non-profit group The Cornucopia Institute. They quote organic farmer Steven Sprinkel of Ojai, California, who fought for Prop 37’s passage. He says, “Organic foods are already required by federal law to be free from genetic engineering.”

A new campaign was even launched in the wake of the defeat. Dubbed “GMO Inside,” it is backed by  Food Democracy Now!, Green America, Institute for Responsible Technology, Foodbabe, Nature's Path and Nutiva. “Corporations may have misled voters in California about GMOs, but they can’t change the fact that over 90 percent of Americans support the labeling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients,” said Green America CEO Alisa Gravitz. The new group will aim to provide ways for people to call attention to genetically engineered foods and the effort to label them.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, December 2012 (online 11/7/12)