Friday, November 2, 2012

Proposition 37 a victory regardless of outcome

If passed, Proposition 37 would ensure that most genetically engineered foods be labeled in the State of California.

It would also ensure that products using the word "Natural" could not contain genetically engineered organisms.

Because California is the most populated state in America and its biggest food producer, it is widely thought that if labeling starts there, it will spread across to other states and also affect food policy in Canada. Then, Canada and the United States would finally join the 62 other Nations that already enjoy the rights to mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.

That is why Proposition 37 matters to all of us.

Since 1910, California has allowed new propositions to be voted on directly by citizens on ballots. Anyone can initiate a proposition for consideration, and depending on the type of proposition, it will be put on the ballot if between 5 and 8% of California's population has signed a petition demanding it.

In theory, this is potentially a great tool for fostering a robust democracy. It provides a direct channel for citizens to turn their concerns into legislation.

In reality, it has had a mixed history. The power of this ballot system is greatest when the issue has no strong economic interests against it. When a proposition promises to jeopardize the earnings of major corporations, unlimited amounts of money and resources will be thrown into defeating it, no matter how important it is for our health or prosperity.

Proposition 37 is no exception.

The major biotech-pesticide companies, Monsanto, BASF, Dow, Dupont, Syngenta, and Bayer, have contributed over 22 million dollars to defeating Proposition 37. Monsanto, the maker of Agent Orange, DDT, PCBs and rBGH, voted in 2011 as the world's Worst Company of the Year, alone has forked over 7 million dollars into overturning the people's will. These six companies produce most of the genetically engineered organisms on the market today and have hundreds of different animals, plants and microbes waiting in the pipeline to be released once public concern of GMOs dwindles.

If it dwindles.

Over 20 million dollars have also been spent by food companies, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft, Kellog's, Nestle, General Mills, Conagra, Del Monte and Unilever (to name some of the bigger contributions).

It now appears certain that Proposition 37 will be defeated. With 45 million dollars and fueled by boundless avarice, these companies have unleashed a tirade of misinformation, lies, and aspersions through glossy television commercials, radio messages, and junk mail. With huge advertising budgets and a well-slicked team of marketing psychologists, market researchers, graphic designers and editors, they have successfully stirred up and stoked the fear they need.

Consider: Nearly 70% of Californians strongly supported Proposition 37 in early September.

Only 38% support it now.

By contrast, only 20% were against it a month ago.

Opposition has now jumped to 50%.

Tens of thousands of citizens across North America have worked tirelessly to promote Proposition 37, earnestly and bravely speaking out on behalf of the health of humans, future generations, the rights of other species to genetic integrity, and of the stability of ecosystems. Tens of thousands of citizens have volunteered days and weeks campaigning to raise awareness, signing up on calling teams, and amassing petition signatures.

Not only have they donated time and money, they have also committed their hearts to the initiative.

When a handful of super-rich companies can thwart public opinion through lies jacked up on millions of dollars of advertising steroids, it is easy to get discouraged. We know that what is at stake is a lot more important than corporate bottom lines. It seemed so certain that California was going to finally get labeling, so to watch the erosion of popular support is heartbreaking. It shakes up not only our confidence in the possibility of a healthy world for our children but also our faith in democracy itself. We ask ourselves: Why aren't there any mechanisms to protect the people's will against the power of money? Why haven't governments learned their lesson after the decades-long tobacco industry misinformation fiasco?

If you are like me, you feel depressed about the drop in support for Proposition 37. If you are like me, you may feel like there is no point in putting effort into changing the world. You likely feel raw and fragile: you again committed your heart to something you care so strongly about only to see it again crushed by this greedy, senseless machine. If you are like me, you probably want to take some time off and spend it in the company of what makes you happy and gives your life meaning.

But if you are like me, what makes you happy and gives your life meaning is the very thing that is getting destroyed. And so it feels like there is nowhere to go.

Before I lead you all the way down into the suffocating abyss that we activists so often find ourselves in, let me try and shine some light on what has happened with Proposition 37. I have some strong grounds for considering our work on this a success, even though the proposition is virtually guaranteed not to pass.

Look at this fact: despite the biotech bullies' campaign to wash the airways with 45 million dollars worth of lies and deceit, 38% of Californians still demand labeling. That is an incredible fact. Consider, for a moment, their calculated techniques: one of their main ones is to convince people that labeling will inflate their grocery bills by hundreds of dollars a year. This is, of course, nonsense. Labeling did not increase costs in any of the other 62 countries where labeling is now required. But we have no effective way of communicating this on the scale that the biotech bullies do (it is much more likely that the biotech bullies themselves will be the ones set to lose a few hundred dollars a year per customer after consumers avoid purchasing their foods). The biotech bullies have narrowed in on Average Joe's pocketbook, knowing that this is an extremely powerful incentive, especially in our current economic climate. They supplement these arguments by falsely attributing quotes to the FDA and to Stanford University, and by accusing proponents of the propositions of being "anti-science" or "anti-progress".

Despite this, three out of every eight Californians still want labeling.

This indicates either a tremendous commitment to the issue or a solid mistrust of the biotech industry. Or both. In any case, nearly half of Californians are now strong enough that they are immune to 45 million dollars of masterfully varnished deception! Remember: this is not an election time partisan issue, where voters blindly throw allegiance behind their favoured colour: neither Romney nor Obama have spoken out in support of the proposition.

Instead, this indicates that a significant number of people are waking up.

Some might argue: but we had 66% support in September and 90% support earlier in the year. How can you spin this failure into a success story?

I would point out that most of those people had very little clue what GMOs are, had had no exposure to the controversy one way or another, and had not committed themselves strongly to any position. Those people were easy to waver and many of them may be easy to pull back to our side too. What is more significant is that we've now got a rock base of 38% of people totally committed, regardless of the scare tactics and attempts at indoctrination they've been subordinated to by their television sets. This could mean 38% of Californians making purchasing decisions that reflect their ethics and conversing with the rest, slowly drawing them back. If we consider the fact that much less than 38% are committed to organic food, we should realize that we have quite a powerful foundation here.

Now if we can work on this strong base, we can overcome the biotech bullies anyway. This proposition doesn't need to pass. If we can work with our momentum and commit in partnership to not purchasing products that contain GMOs, the industry will topple. Before Proposition 37 emerged, we certainly would not have been able to find 15 million Californians likely to boycott companies to avoid GMOs. Now we have that. And we have millions more across North America who have learnt more about GMOs and the corporate control of our food chain through the efforts of Californians. Proposition 37 has galvanized this support, increased awareness, and has brought us together.

If we consider only the triumph or failure of Proposition 37, we are likely to be disappointed, give up, and all the work we've done would be shed for nothing. But if we recognize our work on Proposition 37 as one phase in a larger project, then our work has already been a resounding success. It is natural that we feel sadness and grief. We must face these emotions directly and support each other through them. But we cannot misinterpret this historical moment: the world is waking up and our most important and exciting work is still ahead of us!

1 comment:

  1. it is true, the bill's defeat may seem like a personal defeat to all who stepped outside their safety net to engage in a battle that truly means something. though our actions, when focused on the intent itself releases us from any attachment to a particular result. in the end, the pure action will ripple...