More Americans are questioning the health and environmental effects of genetically engineered or genetically modified (GM) organisms in their food. In California, the ‘Right to Know’ campaign to require that food from GM crops be labeled is headed for a November 6 state ballot, after organizers gathered nearly one million signatures in favor of the measure earlier this year. However, chemical giants behind GM crops and big grocery/agribusiness firms, some with organic and ‘natural’ brands, are spending millions of dollars collectively to try and stop the bill from succeeding.

The historic initiative, known as Proposition37, would be the first law in the U.S. requiring labeling of a wide range of GM foods and would specify that they were "produced with genetic engineering." The initiative, which would see the U.S. join over 40 other nations, including all of Europe, Japan and China who require labeling of GM food, is widely regarded as the best chance to achieve GM labeling in the United States. The California “Right to Know” initiative is backed by a broad array of consumer, health and environmental groups, businesses and farmers.

However, California Right to Know reports on August 15 that Monsanto Co. just contributed $4.2 million to defeat Proposition 37, the largest contribution in the race. Total contributions to defeat Proposition 37 amount to $25 million and nearly $23 million during the last week. So far the "Big 6" pesticide companies (Monsanto, Dow, BASF, Bayer, Syngenta and DuPont) have contributed $13.5 million to defeat Proposition 37. This dwarfs the approximately $3 million contributed by proponents of GE labeling, which include organic manufacturers and producers such as Nature’s Path, Lundberg rice, Nutiva and Dr. Bronner’s.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) a membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America representing over 6,500 organic businesses across 49 states, stated that it “supports the consumer’s right to know, and to choose foods, fiber and personal care products based on environmental, personal health, religious, dietary or other preferences”. OTA supports mandatory labeling of all agricultural GMOs and their products.

Environmental Working Group, a national research and advocacy organization, also joined the fight to pass the measure. “Californians deserve the right to know whether their food contains genetically engineered ingredients, but the only way they’ll win that right is by voting yes on Proposition 37 on November 6,” stated EWG..

Until now, GMO foods – primarily soy, corn or beet sugar – have mostly been used in processed food and animal feed, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering approving the sale of genetically modified versions of widely eaten foods such as apples and salmon. Currently, 90 percent of sugar beets and 94 percent of soybeans grown in the U.S., and 88 percent of corn grown for animal feed, are genetically modified.

“The only way Californians will win the right to know about genetically modified ingredients in our food is to claim it in the voting booth, and that’s why EWG is in this fight,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “Big Food has already announced that defeating California’s Proposition 37 is their top priority.

“Consumers might be surprised to find out that brands hiding under ‘natural’ façades are in fact owned by multi-billion-dollar corporations that are contributing bushel baskets of cash to defeating Proposition 37,” says Charlotte Vallaeys, director of Farm and Food Policy at The Cornucopia Institute.

“Just as we’ve observed in Europe, where labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is mandatory, we fully expect that when given a choice, consumers will choose organic or non-GMO products,” said Mark A. Kastel, Co-director of Wisconsin-based Cornucopia. “And the industrial food lobby is fully cognizant of this—that’s why they’re fighting like hell against this grassroots effort.”
“If the food and biotech industries are so proud of their pervasive genetically manipulated crops, why are they so afraid, and so desperately opposed to labeling it?” asked Arran Stephens, founder of Nature’s Path, North America’s largest certified organic cereal and granola brand with manufacturing plants in the US and Canada.