NOTE: This is a guest blog post from Stacy Malkan, media director for the Yes on 37 California Right to Know Campaign.
Welcome to election season, when big corporations spare no expense trying to get us to vote against our own self interest. Here in California, we’re bracing for a bomb of television commercials designed to convince us that labeling food is scary, weird and expensive.
In just the past week, a parade of corporations have donated nearly $25 million — before Labor Day is even upon us — to try to kill Proposition 37, a historic ballot initiative that would require labeling of genetically engineered foods.
New contributions freshly posted on the Secretary of State website reveal the companies that are forking over huge contributions to, and staking their brand names behind, a front group called “The Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme,” which claims that Proposition 37 would “ban the sale of groceries” — even though it wouldn’t.
Proposition 37 would require companies to add a few words to existing labels to inform consumers if their food has been genetically engineered. Who could be against giving us accurate information about what’s in our food?
The Pesticide Peddlers: Monsanto leads the pack with $4.2 million and a newly posted honor at the bottom of the opposition website that says, “Major funding by Monsanto…”
Joining Monsanto are the rest of the “Big Six” chemical companies — DuPont, BASF, Bayer, Dow and Syngenta — who have poured a combined $13.5 million into fighting Proposition 37. Why?
These are the guys who make the pesticides and also sell or push the seeds that are genetically engineered to withstand the pesticides, thereby allowing them to … sell more pesticides. You get the picture.
“Rather than reducing the need for hazardous pesticides, herbicide-resistant seeds have driven a massive increase in herbicide use that has been linked to significant environmental and public health concerns,” explains Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, PhD, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network, in a statement supporting Proposition 37.
“It’s clear that genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant seeds are the growth engines of the pesticide industry’s sales and marketing strategy. These seeds are part of a technology package explicitly designed to facilitate increased, indiscriminate herbicide use and pump up chemical sales,” Dr. Ishii-Eiteman said.
According to a 2009 report by Chuck Benbrook, PhD, chief scientist at the Organic Center, farmers applied 318 million more pounds of pesticides over the first 13 years of commercial GE crop production (1996-2008), as a direct result of planting genetically engineered seeds. “GE crops are pushing pesticide use upward at a rapidly accelerating pace,” Dr. Benbrook wrote in the report.
Corn Syrup Crowd: Not far behind the chemical companies, the big junk food brands — Pepsi, Coke, Nestle, Kellogg — are lining up against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of their consumers who want to know if their food has been genetically engineered. These are the companies that are already providing information about genetic engineering to consumers in 49 other countries, but not in their own country.
Their Washington DC lobby group — the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) — has said that defeating Prop 37 is their “single-highest priority” this year, as Michele Simon reported. Imagine that: the nation’s biggest food companies have no other priority but to keep consumers in the dark about genetic engineering.
PepsiCo leads the Corn Syrup Crowd with $1.7 million in contributions, followed by Nestle and Coke, with $1.2 million each. Other food companies among the top 20 contributors to the No on 37 scare campaign are Conagra Foods ($1 million), Kellogg ($632,500), General Mills ($519,400), Hershey ($395,100), Smuckers ($388,000), Hormel Foods ($374,300), Bimbo Bakeries ($338,300), Ocean Spray Cranberries ($301,500) and Pinnacle Food Group ($266,100).
Look for these corporations and their lobby group to drop millions more in the weeks ahead in an effort to convince voters that adding a little bit of ink to labels will force them to raise the cost of groceries by “hundreds of dollars a year.”
As Ronnie Cummins asks on Alternet, “Why spend millions of dollars to keep ingredients secret — ingredients food manufacturers claim are perfectly safe — instead of spending a fraction of that amount to just list those ingredients on the labels they already put on every food product?”
And on the right side of history is the people’s movement for our right to know what’s in our food. With more than a million people already on board, the Yes on 37 Campaign is working to organize One Million More people to counter the opposition’s millions.
For its part, the Yes on 37 Right to Know campaign has raised about $2.7 million so far, a large portion of which has come from thousands of donors giving small contributions online. Funders also include leading businesses in the natural and sustainable food industry, including Lundberg Family Farms, Amy’s Kitchen, Nature’s Path, Nutiva, Organic Valley, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and Dr. Joseph Mercola, who runs one of the largest health websites in the country.
These donors are standing behind the more than 1,000 endorsing organizations and the huge majority of Californians — 69%, according to a recent Pepperdine poll — who support Prop 37 and our right to know what’s in our food.
Can the public interest win out against the deceptive ad campaigns funded by pesticide peddlers and the corn syrup crowd?
In less than 90 days, we’ll know the answer. Now is the time to get involved. To help pass Prop 37, join us at www.CARighttoKnow.org, like us on Facebook and tweet about our right to know what’s in our food.
Stacy Malkan is media director for the Yes on 37 California Right to Know Campaign. If voters pass Proposition 37 in November, California would be the first state in the U.S. to require labeling of genetically engineered foods. Forty nine other countries already require GE foods to be labeled.