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.”
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