On November 4th the issue of GMOs made it to the USA ballot box. For the first time Colorado, Oregon, Hawaii and California placed the question of GMOs before the electorate. Although the results didn’t rise to the same headline level given to the Republicans winning control of the Senate, many hurried to put their spin on the outcome.
The Actual Results of Four Votes
Initiatives requiring labels for genetically altered food were defeated in Colorado and Oregon. Voters in Hawaii and California adopted two county level bans on the production of genetically modified organisms. Does that make it a tie?
Here is a Closer Look
- Voters strongly rejected Proposition 105, which would have mandated labeling for genetically modified foods.
- The vote was much closer in Oregon, but Measure 92 still failed.
- Maui County, Hawaii. A ballot measure slapping a temporary ban on genetically engineered crops passed by a slim margin. The new law will prohibit the growth, testing, or cultivation of GMOs until environmental and health studies declare them safe.
- Humboldt County, California. Voters handily approved Measure P, which will prohibit growing genetically modified crops in the northern California County.
Looking at GMOs from Both Sides Now
Hawaiian opponents to the proposed law, which included agribusinesses and family farmers, called the law flawed and said it would hurt the local economy. Indeed, the GMO seed corn industry on Molokai Island, which is part of Maui County, may be threatened as a result of the election. But supporters, who were reportedly outspent by more than 87 to 1, hailed the result. “Residents of Hawaii are acutely aware of their islands’ ecological uniqueness, and they are willing to stand up to chemical companies to ensure that biodiversity is protected,” said Ashley Lukens of the Hawaii chapter of the Center for Food Safety.
Everybody is Claiming Victory
Regardless of the outcome, both sides are claiming victory. This alone should signal that something irregular is at work here! Those in support of GMOs claim science won. Those anti-GMOs say that million dollar campaigns made the difference.
Can’t Get Respect
You have often read here in The Bullvine that it is hard for farmers to be accorded respect for the 24/7 labor they put into food production. However relative to GMOs, the real lack of respect is being given to the food consumer. GMO activists see them not only as being easily manipulated by the big money interests, they are apparently unable, without threats and manipulation, to make healthy choices when feeding themselves and their families. Of course, farmers don’t eat the food they produce or so anti-GMO activists would have the public believe. Anti-GMO activists find that farmers are somehow immune to the deadly effects of something that would kill not only the animals that provide their living but themselves too! These poor farmers simply don’t know any better!!
Finger Pointing at the Villains
Of course when any discussion descends to shouting and name calling, it is less and less likely that something beneficial to anybody will be the end result. No one has a perfect answer. Extremists are lined up on both sides of the issues. Agricultural is frustrated with misinformation. From their viewpoint, ballot initiatives at the state level seem misguided at best and fear mongering at worst. With barn boots dug in, they are as unbending as the anti-activists who can only rally the cries driven by fear and mistrust.
“It is time to step back and choose elected leaders — from both viewpoints—who are willing to work together to find solutions.”
History Repeats Itself
The results in Colorado and Oregon follow similar ballot initiative defeats in California in 2012 and in Washington State in 2013. The food industry spent nearly $70 million to thwart those efforts. The expenditure is not seen as information or education but, negatively, as brain-washing.
Put a Label On It
Now, legislative action around GMOs may shift to Congress, which will see Republicans take control of the Senate and expand their control of the House in the new year. A GOP-led Congress could add momentum to the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. The bill was authored by the food industry and proposes voluntary GMO labeling nationwide. It would preclude states from adopting their own mandatory labeling laws. The nominally bipartisan bill has had few co-sponsors, but a more business-friendly Washington could give it new life.
What in The World???
Genetically engineered foods must be labeled as such in 64 countries, but in the United States only Vermont has approved labels. Even there, the law doesn’t take effect until July 2016—if it can withstand legal challenges. Maine and Connecticut also have passed GMO labeling bills, but both remain dormant unless and until other states also pass similar legislation. Legislation to label genetically altered food has been introduced in 20 states.
From the Feed Box to the Ballot Box Which Way are the Tides Turning?
Despite the setbacks for GMO opponents, public distrust of genetically modified foods seems to be growing. And companies that make and sell food are paying attention. One example which is held up is that General Mills changed the recipe for Cheerios. This was so that the product would no longer include genetically modified ingredients. Another national retailer (Whole Foods) plans to label genetically altered products by 2018.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
So what does this mean for the dairy industry? The world of labeling products is changing. Consumers have the right to know what they put in their bodies.
Our industry needs to be proactive in the face of changing perspectives. Instead of fighting are we prepared to show that using GMOs is one way – one safe way – that we may be able to feed nine billion in 2050 and our milk products are not negatively impacted by GMOs.
Sitting on the fence is not an effective way to think outside the GMO ballot box.