Proposition 37, the issue on the California ballot that would have required mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food (GMOs or GEs), was defeated last night. Fifty-three percent of the voters in the state were against it.


What happened? A few weeks ago, it looked like it would pass, but an aggressive ad campaign funded by the chemical companies that create GMOs and the food companies that use GMO ingredients in their products seems to have been effective in convincing the public that labeling GMOs was a bad idea. At least that’s the best guess from people who know more than I.


A press release I received from Food & Water Watch earlier today had this to say:


In the face of unrelenting deceptive advertising funded by giant chemical and processed food corporations to the tune of nearly $50 million, California’s Proposition 37 calling for a simple label on genetically engineered food narrowly lost with 47 percent of the vote. While support for GE food labels has never been stronger, the incessant drumbeat of misleading and outright false industry advertising was barely able to defeat this popular measure.

Does this mean that the entire issue is closed? Proposition 37 was defeated and therefore the GMO labeling debate is over? On Oct. 10, Michael Pollan wrote in a thoughtful NYT piece titled “Vote for the Dinner Party” that if “Prop 37 passes, and the polls suggest its chances are good, then that debate will most likely go national and a new political dynamic will be set in motion.” (Ah, what a difference a few weeks and tens of millions of dollars can make.)


But, it didn’t pass. Will there be no national debate now? I think that depends upon us. I had an exchange this morning on Twitter with a couple of other GMO-labeling advocates. Takia McClendon (@TakiaTheVegan), blogger at Philly Food for Thought, made this comment:


Prop 37 did a great job at making GMO a national conversation. Now it's time to put the people you voted for pass national legislation.


I thought about that. Was it really a national conversation? I tweeted back:


I'm beginning 2 wonder now if Prop 37 was actually national convo or just convo btwn us like minded food advocates.

Another Twitter user @POETICDRINK2U chimed in:


If it wasn't [a national conversation], it's our duty to bring to the masses.

We all agreed that if GMO labeling is not on the radar for average Americans, it’s our job to put it there.


How do we do that? Food activist Robyn O’Brien and author of “The Unhealthy Truth” had these three ideas on her Inspired Mom blog today. The ideas in bold are hers. The comments after each of them are mine.


  1. Keep up the pressure at the state level. California isn’t the only state in the country, right? We can work within our own states to get a bill similar to Proposition 37 passed. O’Brien mentioned on her blog that after just one state (New York) passed a seat belt law in 1984, others quickly followed.
  2. Begin a dialogue. Find a friend who cares about this as much as you do. This is what my Twitter conversation was about. I’ve written about Proposition 37 for both Mother Nature Network and my personal blog, South Jersey Locavore. On both blogs, let’s face it, I was mostly preaching to the choir. I did talk to a few of my non-food advocate friends about the issue, but it’s time I start talking it up more to my friends, neighbors and family in face-to-face conversations. You know, talk about it to those people who love me but rarely bother to read my blogs.
  3. Join the national movement that is calling on the FDA to address the issue on behalf of all Americans. The national movement O’Brien is referring to is Just Label It. I urged you to get involved with this movement earlier this year in January. Almost a year later, it’s even more important that you’re connected with the Just Label It campaign if you care about GMO labeling.

Proposition 37 may have been defeated, but the debate about the issue doesn’t have to be dead. Maybe, as Michael Pollan said, its passage might have set a national political debate in motion. We don't know if or when that national debate will happen, but we can still have neighborhood debates, state debates, and hopefully, eventually, a national debate if those of us who are informed take the time to stay up-to-date on our information and educate everyone we know about labeling GMOs.


Related story on MNN: How other state ballot measures turned out


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