Fighting for Prop 37: the Truth That $36 Million Can't Hide
By Stacy Malkan
The people's movement for our right to know what's in our food has hit a critical fork in the road: the moment when it's time to ask ourselves and each other - how hard are we willing to fight for our basic right to know what's in the food we're eating and feeding our families?
Proposition 37 is the litmus test for whether there is actually a food movement in this country, writes Michael Pollan in an article in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. It may also be the litmus test for whether there is democracy left in this country.
After months of sky-high support in the polls, just 10 days of relentless pounding propaganda by the pesticide industry has made a significant dent in support for Proposition 37 and our right to know if our food is genetically engineered.
So worried are the pesticide companies about California consumers having labels on genetically engineered foods that they are spending one million dollars a day flooding the airwaves with a tidal wave of deception about Prop 37.
As proof of the dishonest tactics in play, in just the past week, the anti-consumer No on 37 campaign has been accused of misleading voters by Stanford University (twice), the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and by three major newspapers.
Yet most voters are seeing only one face and hearing only one voice in the debate about Prop 37 - that of notorious pesticide-industry front man Henry Miller. Who is Henry Miller? And can easily discredited pesticide-industry lies really win an election?
Easily Discredited Pesticide-Industry Lies
Hour after hour in every media market across the state, Henry Miller appears on TV to explain his views about Proposition 37. The ad campaign was exposed as dishonest at the outset, when Stanford University forced the anti-Prop 37 campaign to yank the ad because it falsely identified Miller as a doctor at Stanford (he is actually a researcher at the Hoover Institution), and used images of Stanford's vaulted buildings to push a political position in violation of university policy.
The edited ad was soon back on the air - one viewer in San Francisco reported seeing it 12 times in one day - pounding voters with Henry Miller's message that Prop 37 "makes no sense." But a lot of things that make sense to the rest of us don't make sense to Henry Miller: for example, that DDT was banned for a reason, or that exposure to radioactive elements after a nuclear power plant meltdown is not a health benefit. (Read all about the extreme views of the No on 37 science spokesperson here.)
Henry Miller is the perfect poster guy for the lack of credibility of the pesticide giants' campaign against our right to know what's in our food. Who are they going to trot out next, the president of the Flat Earth Society?
The only honest thing about the No on 37 ads is the disclaimer that tells us who's funding this campaign of deception -- Monsanto and Dupont, the same companies that told us DDT and Agent Orange were safe.
Setting the Record Straight
Yet incredibly, it's working. Henry Miller's hypocritical script in a misleading ad campaign that was discredited as soon as it began has taken a bit hit out of the support for Prop 37.
In the ad, Miller claims the exemptions included in Prop 37 are "illogical" and included "for special interests." As if the companies for which he is working - the biggest special interests of all - would be in favor of Prop 37 if it were even stronger.
They would not. For the record, the exemptions are common sense. They follow the trajectory of labeling bills in the Europe Union and all around the world. Prop 37 will cover the vast majority of genetically engineered foods that consumers are eating - the food on supermarket shelves.
Meat, milk and eggs would be labeled if they came from genetically engineered animals. There are no genetically engineered animals in the human food supply right now, but if there were, they would have to be labeled. Which will come in handy since the first GE animal is on its way to our dinner plates - a salmon genetically engineered with an eel to grow twice as fast. Wouldn't you want to know if you were eating such a thing?
Because Prop 37 is designed to be simple and business friendly, it does not require labeling for cows that eat genetically engineered feed. It would not be a simple matter to track what cows eat. More to the point, that exemption is common around the world. It didn't make sense for California to try to leapfrog over the rest of the world with our labeling law, when we have been trying to catch up with the rest of the world for 15 years.
Yes pet food would have to be labeled if it contains genetically engineered crops like corn or soy. That's because the standard definition of food under the Sherman Act considers pet food to be food - so argue that one with the legislature.
As for other story lines the opposition is shopping - there will be no increased costs to consumers with Prop 37. Doesn't it seem strange that these companies would spend tens of millions of dollars to convince us that adding a little ink to their labels will force them to raise the cost of groceries? And as for "shakedown lawsuits," that makes no sense when you consider the fact that there are no incentives for lawyers to sue under Prop 37.
The only shakedown lawsuits related to this issue are the thousands of farmers Monsanto is suing for planting their own seeds to grow food. In case you missed it, consider this chilling sentence from last week's Washington Post: Monsanto "has filed lawsuits around the country to enforce its policy against saving the seeds for the future." Policy against the future? Sounds about right.
Pet Food for Thought
While Californians are mired in debate about pet food versus steak, the real question facing voters is this: Are we going to allow out-of-state pesticide and junk food corporations tell us what we can and can't know about what's in the food we eat?
"What makes you think you have the right to know?" asks Danny DeVito in a parody video supporting Prop 37. "Knowing if you're buying or eating genetically engineered food is not your right."
"Maybe move to Europe or Japan if you want that right," says Kaitlin Olson. "Or China," adds Dave Matthews, because, "Here in America you don't get the right to know if you're eating genetically modified organisms."
Unless, unless: We demand that GMOs get labeled. Unless we vote yes on Prop 37. Unless we influence every single California voter we can to do the same.
The Yes on 37 campaign is a true people's movement for our right to know what's in our food. We will not be stopped. When California voters go to the polls this November, they will value their right to know what's in their food, rather than leaving it up to the pesticide industry and Henry Miller to make those choices for us. But in order to win this, every single one of us has to fight like hell to make it happen.
Stacy Malkan is the media director of the Yes on 37 California Right to Know campaign to label genetically engineered foods. She is a former journalist and newspaper publisher and longtime advocate for environmental health campaigns - most recently as co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics - and author of the book, Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.