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Letter From the Editor: Rural Voters Veto GMO Labeling (Again)


There are not many people or voters in rural counties, but there sure are a lot of rural counties. In Garfield County in Washington state, almost 82 percent of the voters rejected Initiative 522, the measure that would have required labels of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Indeed, the rural counties of Washington voted just like the rural counties of California did a year ago when they proved key to toppling Proposition 37. When the medicine show behind the Prop. 37 campaign announced it was moving on to Washington state, I remember thinking, “Gee, a state with a larger rural vote than California.”

After its second debacle in a row, they are said to be on to Oregon, a state with a larger percentage of rural voters than Washington state. Good luck with that.

The fact is that the pro-labeling campaigns have been amateur operations up against professionals.

Both Prop. 37 and I-522 went down because the professionals who ran the campaigns against them did so by executing a winning strategy without being clouded by emotion. They focused on poll-tested arguments directed at only what the voters were interested in.

The pro campaign, although a little more disciplined than it was in California, continued to be amateur-driven. That is not meant to be in insult; it’s just like what would happen if you had a very good college football team play any average team in the NFL. That would not come out pretty for the college team, no matter how many times you tried it.

The one smart strategy move the pro side made was to submit I-522 as an initiative to the legislature. Olympia could have fixed its flaws by submitting an alternative to I-522, but lawmakers opted not to do so. That was the first sign the opposition knew it could crush I-522 just like it did Prop. 37, but it was unfortunate that the “perfecting” role the legislature sometimes plays did not occur.

Seattle and national media made much of the money the “No” campaign had to play with. No doubt about it. Who wouldn’t want to have the most money? But it’s no guarantee. The best-funded campaigns can also lose, and sometimes do. Campaigns are complex, and outcomes are driven by multiple factors.

Washington state probably takes its initiatives as seriously as any place in the country. People do actually sit at their kitchen tables and read them word for word, along with pro-and-con statements in the state voter’s pamphlet. Editorial boards really do meet with the parties involved, have long discussions, and then take a reasoned side.

Since Washington voters are used to deciding big issues, they’ve come to expect that outside political money is going to come into the state. Amounts are not the issue, but disclosure sure is. The turning point in this election was probably not when the state attorney general demanded the Grocery Manufacturers Association report a breakdown of the actual sources of the money the organization was putting in the campaign, but when GMA quickly agreed to do it.

After that, the money issue just drifted away.

When the losers are crying about the election outcome afterward and begin saying the election was bought or democracy does not exist, they are just insulting voters. People get emotional about losing elections, I know. But insulting the voters does not help one’s cause for the next time.

While the “No” campaign brought some unity to the food manufacturers and retailers, it apparently did not last even until all the ballots were counted in their victory.

Two days after the election, the Washington D.C.-based Friends of the Earth launched an attack on the Arctic apple, the first GMO apple with an application pending with USDA. The non-browning apple is the product not of Monsanto or Dupont, but little Okanagan Specialty Fruits.

The Okanagan is the fruit-growing belt that begins east of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state and runs into British Columbia. Okanagan Specialty Fruits is on the B.C. side.

On Nov. 7, Friends of the Earth said it had letters from McDonald’s and Gerber stating that they do not plan to sell or use Arctic apples. The letters were sloppy, not the sort of work we saw from the “No” campaign. The Seattle Weekly did a good job of getting to the bottom of what was said.

But it was just an example of how, once outside of a campaign structure, food manufacturers and grocery retailers cannot get their act together on GMOs. As we’ve noted here in the past, they’ve gone for way too long with a strategy of just trying not to talk about GMOs.

Until they get a clue as to how to speak to their customers about GMOs, they’ll be relying on rural voters to save them in the next election.

© Food Safety News
  • mem_somerville

    Yeah, so the folks in farming areas–who likely are most familiar with seed companies–voted “no”. I don’t think this is an accident. And I don’t think they are uninformed.

    And you nailed the other strategy too. If there was labeling, it would be used to target companies specifically like this apple company. I know some people think that just giving people an non-informative label would stop the shouting, but it wouldn’t. It would only enrage and ignite the FOE and their team to go after smaller targets.

    The “yes” side here had everything going for them. The nearby wheat scare, the local salmon industry pressure, and the GMA’s legal trouble. I’m astonished that it wasn’t a slam-dunk for them. But I think the more key aspect is that most people really don’t care. 60% of people couldn’t be bothered to vote at all.

    But if you want the industry to start talking about GMOs, that’s fine. As consumer benefit traits come along, you can expect a charm offensive that will make foodie toes curl. And that will be fun to watch.

  • Dr. Reto Battaglia

    GMO foods, once given the ok by the FDA, ARE NOT A TOPIC FOR FOOD SAFETY! Labelling questions are at best a consumer policy item or, as here, a political issue. But this topic has in my opinion absolutely NO place on this website. Why don’t we concnetrate our efforts on real food safety items like hygiene in clatering, slaughterhouses and on farms??

  • crag

    Also, “Pastor Picks” said to vote no on 522

  • mem_somerville

    Maybe you can ponder why WA was played by out-of-staters who got this on their ballot and wasted their time, and drove them crazy with stupid TV ads. I assure you that wouldn’t have happened if activists hadn’t been using you as cannon fodder.

    • farmber

      Speaking of ads — Monsanto/Grocery Mfrs blanketed the airwaves with tons of finely crafted prevarications, fear-inducing slogans and disinformation campaigns on how the “deceptive labeling scheme” that will “raise grocery prices” ETC ETC

      But we know advertising doesn’t work — right??

      • FosterBoondoggle

        Did you bother to read this article? “When the losers are crying about the election outcome afterward and
        begin saying the election was bought or democracy does not exist, they
        are just insulting voters.”

        But I think you’re going to get some version of what you want pretty soon. It seems likely that the major food producers don’t want to keep refighting this battle, state by state, and will push for some sort of national labeling scheme. I doubt it will be a skull & crossbones on the front of the package, which is probably the only thing that would satisfy FOE and their pals, but it might be there in the ingredients list on the back.

        • farmber

          FB — ever since the Supremes gave overt approval for stacking the deck by allowing unlimited money in the political process there has been a real issue of our Democracy being bought and paid for. Citizens have a full right to jump and scream — especially in this case where such screaming got the WA Atty General to nail the Grocery Mfrs for hiding the names of the donating Big Food Corporations who didn’t want to tarnish their brands.

          And. from all reports from secretive Grocery Mfrs memos the plan IS to go for a national labeling law alright — but of course a toothless one one that usurps/preempts the rights of states to pass meaningful labeling laws.

    • farmber

      …and then again — take look at all the “Insider” Money — where did That come from???

      “The “No on 522″ campaign has set a record for the most money raised opposing a ballot initiative set to go before Washington voters. In addition to the GMA’s $7.2 million contribution, the group racked up another $10 million in donations.”

      ….plus the Grocery Manufacturers of America go busted for hiding their donors — good ole Kraft, Kelloggs, ETC, ETC

  • Loren Eaton

    Hogwash!! It is ALWAYS the responsibility of the manufacturer to run the trials for safety, whether it is in GM crops, pharma, or medical devices. The job of the FDA, USDA and EPA is to evaluate those trials…not do the testing themselves. Just another red herring.

    • J T

      The trials you refer to are performed by “scientists” doing pseudo “science.” The paid-off “scientists” know that if they want repeat customers, then they need to tweek their results to show the product in the best possible light. Let’s look at some of monsanto’s chemical trials. Their toxic roundup was tested on animals for all of 3 months, and that was enough to let the “scientists” declare it safe. Never mind that in the real world, people are exposed to this chemical daily for YEARS, since its residues are in all sorts of foods now. Never mind that many of those animals went on to develop cancers and die early, but the results wont show that because they only observed the animals for 3 months!

  • Loren Eaton

    ‘Further, due to the proprietary nature of GMOs, the biotech industry legally can and does restrict all unauthorized independent studies.’
    The patent holder owns the product (typically) and is therefore responsible for performing the analyses.

    • farmber

      I don’t see any real meaning for “responsible” in this self-serving industry business-as-usual practice…

      No wonder the Corporate-Personhoods rule Gov’t and the Regulatory Agencies with their Citizens United (Money Talks) Super Powers that goes far beyond the Democracy of us regular ole’ mortal citizens…

  • Utah

    Why not encourage all companies who are producing non-GMO food to label their products as non-GMO? Anyone who doesn’t will have the assumption that they do contain GMO ingredients In reading labels, you can tell who is using GMO ingredients in their products. For example, companies who are using milk from cows that have been given the RBST growth hormone shot to make their dairy products will not state that the milk comes from cows who have been given the shot–they simply don’t say. A phone call to the company will confirm that. Likewise, companies who care are making their dairy products from non-RBST milk and clearly state that on the package. To know the cow didn’t eat GMO soy or corn, you have to buy “organic.” At some point if Monsanto keeps creating frankenfood, the consumers have to boycott the manufacturers and their products. Continuing to get our dollars is what this is all about anyway! Read labels and don’t spend them on frankenfood (soy, sugarbeet sugar, corn, and canola (& hawaii’s papaya) and cottonseed (label or no label) Meantime, help the states and your representatives to get GMO labeling passed!