Murphy blamed the proposition’s failure on $50 million in campaign spending by opponents. The No on 37 campaign received funding from the Monsanto Company, DuPont and the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Campaign contributors also included such major food processors as Kraft, Kellogg, General Mills, Coca-Cola and the Campbell Soup Company.
“We were outspent six-to-one by an opponent that used every dirty trick in the book to mislead voters about what the proposition was about,” added Ronnie Cummins, founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association, one of the key groups that ginned up the measure in the first place.
Cummins argued that voters were convinced by a “barrage of commercials” paid for by the No on 37 campaign telling them the initiative would hurt farmers, create unneeded bureaucracy and keep trial lawyers busy with frivolous lawsuits against mom-’n-pop producers.
He failed to note that a “barrage” of any kind of advertising only works when it’s grounded in reality, and everything the opponents of the measure identified as problems rang true with the majority of Californians.
The vote Tuesday was obviously a huge victory for agriculture and the food industry, defeating a measure that would have added costs, created confusion and failed to add even a scintilla of safety to California’s food supply.
Rather than waste any time popping the champagne, however, the forces that defeated this measure need to set in motion a program of voluntary labeling to be put in place proactively. The defeat of Prop 37 in no way should be seen as a repudiation of the Frankenfoods argument. Californians voted down a bad law that was poorly written and opaque on potential costs to the consumer. The underlying message that we should be afraid—very afraid—of biotechnology retains its traction with the majority of the public.
The only way, and I repeat—the only way—to negate those concerns is for the food industry to make the ultimate statement of safety by labeling its products, “Enhanced with genetically engineered ingredients.”
Then follow up with a “barrage” of messaging that communicates the benefits of biotech.
None of which will sink in unless industry is willing to put its labeling where its messaging is. If it’s so safe, then just say so.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.