Why the Right to Know What's in Our Food Has Become One of the Biggest Fights of the Election
The opposition to California's Proposition 37 (which would lable genetically modified foods) has, again, sunk to a new low, according to the measure’s supporters at California Right to Know.
On October 18, the group’s campaign manager Gary Ruskin sent a letter to the U.S. Justice Department alleging “fraudulent misuse of the official seal of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” according to a press release. The group also provided evidence that the No on 37 campaign falsely quoted the agency in the campaign mailer:
(graphic courtesy of California Right to Know)
Stacy Malkan of Right to Know acknowledged to AlterNet via email that “FDA did at one point say that GMO labeling was 'inherently misleading' (as we pointed out in our letter, that was in a different context 20 years ago). FDA has also said that "providing more information to consumers about bioengineered foods would be useful" -- but we didn't relate that to Prop 37, stick quotes around it and use the FDA seal to make it appear that FDA is taking a position on Prop 37.”
Even though prop 37 would require labeling food that includes genetically modified ingredients, it’s only partly a referendum on the public's trust of GMOs. It's also a showdown between right-to-know and right-to-profit. Prop 37 is an imperfect ballot amendment, delivering only a basic level of information and with some disheartening inconsistencies, but if passed it would demonstrate growing political power in the food movement, as many have been trumpeting as of late. But more than anything, if the last two weeks are any indication, this campaign is shaping up to be about the place of money in politics and the power of television marketing—not to mention the advantages of breaking federal law—than the value of GMO labels.
The opposition, headed by agricultural biotech companies and with support from many food corporations, has spent a million dollars a day on advertising this month, according to the pro-labeling California Right to Know campaign -- which has raised just $5.5 million, compared to No on 47’s $35 million.
Nationwide, polls consistently show close to 90 percent of the population favoring GMO labeling. The Center for Food Safety's legal petition to the FDA demanding GMO labeling, filed late last year, has set a new record for number of comments to the FDA, with 1.2 million.
But according to a recent poll of 830 likely voters conducted by Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy and the California Business Roundtable, support for Prop 37 is currently polling under 50 percent -- down from nearly 70 percent two weeks ago, thanks to a recent television ad blitz. And opposition has gone from 20 to 40 percent.
The ads have been criticized for claiming that labeling will raise the price of groceries—which hasn’t happened in Europe, or Japan, or most other countries that have imposed labeling. Several newspapers have complained that the ads have falsely (and boldly, in the ads) claimed their editorial support for Prop 37.
The very first of these ads featured a Dr. Henry Miller, who was misrepresented as a Stanford University professor. Miller is in fact, as the L.A. Times reported, a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, which is situated on the campus of Stanford. According to the California Right to Know Web site, which provides supporting links, Miller once headed a tobacco front group that tried to discredit the links between cigarettes and cancer, and has repeatedly called for the reintroduction of DDT; he has also worked for a climate change denier group, and has claimed on his Forbes.com blog that people exposed to radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster "could have actually benefitted from it."