When the results came in last week showing that those residing in the state of Washington voted against the mandatory GMO labeling initiative, 47.05% to 52.92% to be exact, the decision did not feel like a final statement on the matter. It felt like the end of the prologue.
Despite the liberally-minded Pacific Northwest state following in California's footsteps by failing to force GMO labeling, the loss was met with plenty of optimism on the part of anti-GMO contingent. "We are going to wear them down," said Dave Murphy, the executive director of Food Democracy Now.
"We'll keep bringing the fight until they give in," said David Bronner, CEO of the famed soap company and financial supporter of labeling initiatives. And they actually do have a right to feel so confident. The battle is not over. It's simply moving on.
Next up on the list: Oregon.
Pro-labeling activists are hard at work in the last West Coast state not to chime in on the topic, collecting the requisite signatures and going through the necessary legal protocols, to make sure an initiative shows up on the 2014 ballot. But instead of looking at the back-to-back defeats as harbingers of doom, pro-labeling folks see them as blueprints for success:
"I don't see any reason at all to change strategy," said George Kimbrell, a senior attorney in the Portland office of the Center for Food Safety, which supports labeling. "The only thing that is causing us to narrowly lose these initiatives is the tidal wave of money that the chemical companies are spending."
The "tidal wave of money" he's talking about? In California, the money spent by Monsanto, DuPont and friends in an ad barrage to persuade voters into believing labels aren't all that necessary was $46 million. Pro-labeling forces in California tried to battle that with a mere $9.2 million of their own. In Washington, that difference closed slightly, with anti-labelers putting up a relative scant $22 million versus pro-labelers's own $7.7 million. That's a difference from anti-labeling forces using five times as much money, to about three times the money. It may not seem all that significant, but if the trajectory holds, it could make a huge impact in a tight race. After all, if three percent of the voters in Washington felt the other way last week, the initiative would have passed.
But is all of this optimism grounded in reality? Will the third time be the charm? Won't Monsanto simply throw a whole bunch of money to proliferate misinformation again and buy themselves another "no" vote? The best way to answer this question may be by saying that, ultimately, it doesn't matter. What happens in Oregon does not necessarily dictate what will happen across the rest of the nation. And that's a good thing.
Like the continual expanse of gay marriage bills, GMO labeling initiatives are spreading like wildfire:
Despite the Washington loss, proponents pushing for labeling on food made from genetically modified crops cite progress in 20 other U.S. states, particularly in Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire. They say they will also turn up the pressure on federal lawmakers and regulators. The 2016 presidential election is a prime target for more ballot initiative efforts due to higher voter turnout, they say.
Which is all to say: If you're sick of the battle over GMO labeling, well, maybe it'd be best to plan a nice, long vacation for next September and October. And then another one in 2015. And 2016, '17, '18 and, oh, just get yourself a timeshare already and commit yourself for the next decade or so. Because this thing is not going away anytime soon.
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