It appears that Washington State voters weren’t prepared to be the labeling initiators for GMO foods. I-522 currently trails in the voting results that have been announced so far and it’s unlikely that further returns will be enough to pass the measure. While disappointing to those of us who vigorously support labeling of GMO’s, we have to realize how far we’ve come in making people aware of the concerns of GMO’s in a relatively short time and that this is when those that are concerned must reach deep and continue to push. Having closely observed both the California and Washington campaigns we’ve learned exactly how the companies that stand to gain from the status quo will attack these measures and what information they use to ‘muddy the waters’. Therein lies the path that will back these companies into a corner. How clear is this path? Well the first steps are pretty clear as certain cards have been played in both campaigns. Language of the Initiative, Research ( or lack thereof ), and economic impact are three of the ‘hot’ buttons that the NO campaigns utilized to confuse, mislead, and misinform the voters. In a soundbite environment it was very easy to pick apart the initiatives with half truths and propaganda. In attacking the language, opponents emphasized exemptions ( alcohol, restaurant menus, etc.) regardless of the reasons why. In attacking research, they discredited independent studies and touted theirs, despite the fact that they restrict independent research and limit study of their own inventions to very short periods of time. In attacking economic impact, they emphasized the costs of labeling and reformulating as being prohibitive which as anyone in the food business really knows is an absolute standard cost of being in that business. The trouble for the average consumer is that they don’t know these things and the soundbite ends up sounding convincing since it’s presented as fact in context versus fact in reality. Couple that with the pro labeling groups also being guilty of missteps and it’s a recipe for the recent voting results. Those missteps include attacking science without credible science to back up the assertions and attacking the wrong science, getting caught up in arguing rhetoric, and not focusing on education and facts. For example, though the YES campaigns tried to focus on just the labeling, activists routinely discussed safety of GMO’s and presented anecdotal evidence at best of the safety concerns in relation to disease. Yes, many of us can see the correlation between disease rates and the introduction of GMO’s but since the studies have not been done, the ‘science’ is murky at best. What we do have science on, however, is the negative environmental impact that the planting of GMO crops is causing. This is an area that the Non-GMO activists need to focus on. Claims that GMO’s will feed the world’s population can be discounted with the science that’s available too. Food production under any guise produces enough food to feed the world, however the infrastructure to get it there doesn’t exist. That’s factual and verifiable and another area to attack, especially when you look at the profits of Monsanto, Dow, and Bayer. IF they were truly in it for the right reasons, they would be doing everything they could to fund the infrastructure to get foods to the people that really need it. Since US law favors the shareholder, these companies won’t do that since it would impact their quarterly numbers and it’s easier to spend a few million to defeat a measure than do the right thing.
If you think about it, the GMO fight really is about the future of the USA and it’s standing around the globe. Companies like Monsanto are creating a distrust of business on top of a growing and existing unease with our government and congressional leaders. That’s an economic impact that goes beyond what foods we’re eating. What’s worse is that if only these companies and our elected officials would change how they act we might not even be in this discussion at all. Whatever side of the table you sit, this is something we can all agree on.
Language of the initiatives has been a target of the No labeling group. One common themed argument has been the alcohol ‘exempt’ language. The No side makes it sound like ‘how is this possible?’ and ‘if we label we have to label everything’ in order to make it clear. How about food in a restaurant, pet food, meats, etc. If, everything regarding labeling were cut and dry, it would be easy to write language which encompasses these ambiguities, but with federal laws or regulatory agencies having different rules the initiatives are written in compliance with those requirements. In a 60 second spot it’s much easier to malign or mislead than educate which means that more education is necessary and that takes money and time. Perhaps some of that education is starting in this missive.
Another successful tactic of the No group involves the ‘economic impact’ to the consumer. Claims that food prices would go up and that every family would be negatively impacted were in every ad presented by the No group yet this has been proven false time and time again. As a food manufacturer, we’re constantly updating our products and packaging. Do we want to? Of course not because it does cost money yet it’s really out of our control. For example, supplier x can’t keep up with demand for a certain type of almond and we have to adjust a formula in one of our mixes by adding a few more raisins and a few more cashews to keep our item in stock. We have to change the nutritional panel, ingredient panel, bin label, case label, print new bags, etc. It doesn’t matter if it’s GMO or not, we still have to change it. That’s why the No argument carries no weight. The cost to us was real but doesn’t translate into higher prices for you. We have over 1300 items so it’s a full time thing (regardless of GMO labeling or not). Note that this example covers reformulation too so that argument has no merit. For the No side it’s an easy scare tactic with TV ads.
So, where do the Non-GMO folks go from here? This is still a peoples issue. Education, education, education will get us there. Many companies are becoming aware and realizing that their brands are at risk without change. We, the people, still hold the cards and if we play them correctly, the end of GMO’s is a real possibility, not just the labeling but the elimination.