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A Prop 37 supporter on Election Day this year. Photo courtesy of Lauren Kate Rosenblum Richmond Confidential.

Proposition 37 failed, but found support in Alameda County

on November 8, 2012

Although voters in Alameda County were in favor of Prop 37—a statewide ballot measure that would have required the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods—the proposition failed to gather enough votes statewide and was rejected on Election Day.

At a Wednesday morning media conference call recapping Prop 37’s defeat, Stacy Malkan, spokesperson for the Yes on 37 campaign, said that the results marked “a narrow loss for Prop 37, but a huge win for movement of transparency in our food system.”

Dave Murphy, co-chair of Yes on 37 and founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, said members of the Prop 37 campaign knew from the beginning that getting the ballot measure passed would be an uphill battle, but that their efforts put GMO labeling on the political map. “Last night was a very exciting night for all of California and for millions of Americans across the country,” Murphy said during the conference call. “We came up a little short last night and it’s obviously a disappointment. It was an admirable battle, and they outspent us 5 to 1.”

Overall, Prop 37 failed by nearly 557,000 votes; supporters held 46.9 percent of the total vote, while those in opposition took 53.1 percent.

Results were mixed per county, however. In Alameda County, support of the proposition had 57.3 percent of the vote; in other counties, like Alpine, Humboldt and San Francisco, the margin was not as close, as supporters maintained 65.6, 65.2 and 67.6 percent of the vote, respectively. Near the Central Valley, some counties voted overwhelmingly against Prop 37. Over 60 percent of the votes in Fresno County for example, were against it.

If Prop 37 had passed, California would have become the first state in the nation to require such a mandatory labeling system. It also would have affected a gamut of products from snack foods to soy products, as it would have required any raw or processed food made from genetically modified plant or animal material to be labeled as either “Genetically Engineered,” “Partially Produced With Genetic Engineering,” or “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.” Any food made with genetically modified material would also have been prohibited from being labeled as “natural.”

Several exemptions were included in the ballot measure—meaning that they would not have been labeled—like organic food, alcohol, ready-to-eat food at restaurants, medical food specifically formulated for disease management, and food derived entirely from animals like meat, eggs and some dairy products. So essentially, even if a chicken or cow had fed on feed made with genetically engineered corn, eggs or a package of hamburger meat would not have had to be labeled.

MapLight, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, estimates that opponents to Prop 37—like Monsanto and the Kellogg Company—out-fundraised supporters—like the Organic Consumer’s Fund and Nature’s Path Foods—$46 million to $9.2 million.

Malkan added that Yes on 37 didn’t have enough resources in the final months and days leading up to the election to purchase radio and TV air time in certain counties throughout California.

Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman for the No on 37 campaign, said that Prop 37 was “full of weird loopholes and special exemptions” and inherently glitched. “We felt that once people did that and recognized it was badly drafted, severely flawed and anti-science, they would reject it—and they did,” Fairbanks said. “Supporters tried to scare people that GE foods are unsafe, and they’re not. The scientific evidence is clearly on the side of safety.”

Opponents to Prop 37 have largely argued that the measure would have required grocers and food retailers to keep extensive records of their stock in order to document the amount of genetic modification in the ingredient or food in question. If a store had been unable to provide the documentation, the shopper could have sued the store, opponents argued, opening the door for “meritless shakedown lawsuits,” Fairbanks said. “Voters rejected fear-mongering,” she added. “They wanted reason and scientific evidence to guide policy.”

Pro Prop-37 supporters have countered that this is a misconception, as labeling processed foods would have been the responsibility of the manufacturer and food would therefore have already been delivered already labeled to individual stores. Grocers would only have been responsible for labeling GMO raw foods, like papaya and sweet corn.

A press release by the California Grocers Association following the election said that while it respects the right for consumers to know what is in their food, Prop 37 was inadequate in addressing that need.

“Any food labeling requirements should be consistently applied regardless of where food is purchased, should meet national standards, and should come in a form that helps achieve compliance, not enrich trial lawyers at the expense of higher food costs,” Ron Fong, President and CEO of the California Grocers Association said in the release. “That being said, CGA has already begun discussions with our diverse membership to identify solutions we can bring to the table to help consumers better access information they may want.”

Ronnie Cummins, founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association, said in the media call on Wednesday that the next step for the pro-GMO labeling initiative is collecting enough signatures to put a similar measure on Washington state’s ballot in 2013. So far, they have about half the number of signatures they need, he estimates.

“We’re sad and we’re angry, but we’re going to turn this sadness and anger into positive energy,” Cummins said.

Organizers for Yes on 37 maintain that they will continue raising awareness about GMOs and encouraging consumers in California to urge food manufacturers to become more transparent about the ingredients they use. “One of the true victories of Prop 37 was that it did build an organizing force ready to go forward,” Malkan said. The victory came from grassroots fire.”


  1. David marino on November 8, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Jon Rapport says it well: “Monsanto and it allies claim that you knowing that GMO food is in any food you eat is unfair, because you might be swayed, by your own prejudice, to leave that GMO food on the market shelf, when in fact there is no reason to leave it there.

    They are telling you the companies who are selling you food are more important than your own judgment about what to put in your body.

    You would be impeding commerce if you believe GMO food is bad for you, and in order to protect GMO companies and the economy, you must go into a market blind, to keep things “honest.”

    That’s what they think of you: you’re an idiot. You can’t make reasonable judgments. Therefore, you need to be blind.

    Your inherent right to know is a threat to the established order. It must be taken away.”

    Genetically modified foods most often require increased amounts of pesticides and /or herbicides, such as Round-Up for GE corn.

    Herbicides and pesticides are metal chelators, which means they immobilize specific nutrients, rendering them unavailable to the plant and any animal or human who consumes that plant.
    The nutritional efficiency of genetically engineered (GE) plants is profoundly compromised. Micronutrients such as iron, manganese and zinc can be reduced by as much as 80-90 percent in GE plants. What does this mean if you unknowingly eat GE laden foods? It means you do not absorb very much of the key micronutrients, and these micronutrients are absolutely required for the functioning of enzymes throughout your body. These enzymes will not function at anywhere near a normal rate, and the slow process of disease results because these enzymes must operate normally or near normal in order to prevent disease. The more GE foods you eat the worse this disease process progresses in time.

    There is no argument here. It is a simple matter of biological facts. Worst yet, with the increased amounts of Round-up,used because weeds are becoming resistant (it takes a lot more Round-up to kill them), there is much more Round-Up residue within the plant with each passing year, and you consume more and more of it in time when you consistently unknowingly consume GE foods.

  2. Lien Pham on November 9, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    “Supporters tried to scare people that GE foods are unsafe, and they’re not. The scientific evidence is clearly on the side of safety.”

    I wonder what kind of ‘scientific evidence’ Kathy Fairbank is talking about. Knowing that she’s a spokeman for Monsanto i could only guess that she is talking about the evidence produced by Monsanto-backed research. It think the FDA has the duty to report GMO ingredient in food regardless what science says. The public has the right to know what’s in their food and let us, the consumers, use our wisdom to decide whether we want to eat GMO food or not. I don’t want to be dictated by corporate-backed science regarding my health.

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