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Opponents of Prop 37 -- the voter initiative that would require labeling on all genetically modified foods and food products -- received a fat infusion of cash late last week: nearly $10 million. Now, campaign finance filings published by the Secretary of State's office show another $13 million poured in on Monday. That brings the total to more than $25 million for the No on 37 campaign, compared to just $2.5 million for the Yes camp.
Nearly all of the new money came from Big Agriculture and Big Food companies. Monsanto donated the most, with $4.2 million, but it was joined by a parade of other big money donors, too. DuPont gave $1.2 million; Dow Agrosciences gave $1.2 million; PepsiCo gave $1.1 million; Bayer Cropscience and BASF Plant Science gave another half million each; and a long list of food and beverage companies gave millions more.
All this is sure to give supporters of the measure a headache. California Right to Know, the organization leading the campaign to pass Prop 37, released a statement on Wednesday calling attention to the major donations.
"The giant pesticide and food companies are afraid of the mothers and grandmothers who want the right to know what's in our food," Stacy Malkan, media director of California Right to Know, said in the statement. "These companies will try to buy the election, but it won't work. California moms and dads will prevail over Monsanto and DuPont."
That last point may be in doubt, actually. Monsanto and DuPont aren't exactly best friends. The two companies are locked in a bitter court dispute over a soybean patent. Monsanto held that DuPont had infringed its patent on the so-called Roundup Ready® soybean. A judge awarded Monsanto a whopping $1 billion in damages. Earlier this month, DuPont issued a statement saying it would file an appeal.
But the two companies are clearly in agreement on at least one point: they don't want the food labeling measure to pass. They've given almost identical amounts to the No on 37 campaign, $4.2 million and $4 million respectively. California voters have already proven that money alone is not enough to win a campaign, but it will certainly help opponents get their message across.
That message includes a litany of reasons to vote against the measure -- that it is full of loopholes for foods we eat every day, from cheese to alcohol; that it will lead to frivolous lawsuits against everyone along the food chain, from farmer to grocer; that it will increase taxpayer costs; that it will result in higher food costs for consumers; that it creates unnecessary fear and doubt in the safety of the nation's food supply.
"[A label for genetically engineered foods] would be the equivalent of a skull and crossbones. That's not appropriate when the food is safe," said Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for the No on 37 campaign, in a phone interview. "If we're going to put labels on food, it should be based on science, based on fact, not based on fear."
As Fairbanks pointed out, a number of organizations in the scientific and medical community have taken the position that there is no evidence genetically modified foods currently available on the market are unsafe for human consumption.
For its part, Monsanto published a blog post explaining the reasons it decided to donate to the No on 37 campaign. What you will not read in there is that a food labeling plan could hurt its bottom line if health-conscious or cautious consumers decide to steer clear of these foods.
Inquisitive voters might wonder what that company or other members of the coalition against Prop 37 might say if the more technical complaints were addressed (closing the loopholes for other foods or making it harder to sue, for instance). Would the No on 37 camp suddenly be OK with food labels?
Given the nuanced position the campaign is taking, they technically don't have to answer that question. As Fairbanks believes, it's beside the point.
"That's not what's on the ballot in November. What's on the ballot is Prop 37, and it cannot be changed. Once the proponent submits it to the attorney general, it cannot be modified. That's what voters will vote on. To modify it you have to submit a totally new version," she said.
Somewhere amid the science and the politics, voters will have to find their own reasons for approving or rejecting the idea of labeling genetically modified foods. Until then, we'll endeavor to keep bringing light to the subject, and you can always track the money with our campaign finance database.
Note: The headline was updated to correct a more accurate number for the donation amounts -- from $10 million to $13 million.
Photo: Monsanto claims its Roundup Ready Soybean technology provides farmers with in-the-seed tolerance to Roundup herbicides. | Credit: Monsanto