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Drive to Label GMO Food Battered by Industry's Big Bucks

- Common Dreams staff

A state ballot initiative in California with big implications for the nation's food system has seen massive opposition by industrial agricultural corporations in the final weeks, and an infusion of nearly $46 million dollars may just be enough to thwart the grassroots effort demanding that consumers get the right to know exactly what's in the food they're buying.

Jonathan Youtt, of Oakland, performs a puppet show during a rally in support of the state's upcoming Proposition 37 ballot measure in San Francisco, California October 6, 2012. (Credit: Reuters/Stephen Lam) "A growing body of research links GMO foods to potential health risks," writes Zack Kaldveer of the Yes on 1 campaign in California, which is leading the charge to label all foods that contain genetically modified food in the state.

Though Kaldveer says that "poll after poll showed 90% of Americans (and Californians) favored labeling foods that have been genetically engineered (GMOs)," a recent campaign push by the The No on 37 campaign—whose  two largest contributors are pesticide giants Monsanto ($8.1 million) and Dupont ($5.4 million)—has not only narrowed a two to one advantage by the Yes Campaign, but is now leading in some state polling.

"Four weeks ago," reports Reuters, "the labeling initiative was supported by more than two-thirds of Californians who said they intended to vote on November 6, according to a poll from the California Business Roundtable and Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy. On Tuesday, their latest poll showed support had plummeted to 39 percent, while opposition had surged to almost 51 percent."

Reuters continues:

The swing in sentiment in the final weeks was predicted by pollsters, based on the power of a $46 million "No on 37" campaign, one of the best-funded for a California ballot measure fight. The ads claim the "badly written" initiative would increase the average family's grocery bills by $400 annually and hobble California farmers. Opponents also take aim at what they call "special interest exemptions" for restaurant food and products from animals fed with grain containing genetically modified organisms, popularly known as GMOs.

Backers of the labeling initiative say consumers have the right to know what is in the food they eat. They dispute opponents' cost projections and say labeling would not be burdensome to families or businesses.

They could still prevail on Tuesday if the polling turns out to be wrong, or if a last minute push by grassroots supporters takes root.

Kaldveer writes: "The No On 37 campaign knows that the less you know about your food, the more money they are likely to make.  Their goal is literally that simple, even though their campaign of deception is far more elaborate." He continues:

They've set up phony AstroTurf groups, misrepresented spokespeople and embellished their credentials, and misrepresented leading science, government, professional and academic organizations-including (but not limited to) the National Academy of Sciences, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics,US Food and Drug Administrationand World Health Organization. They've bankrolled demonstrably phony "economic studies," made repeated false statements in advertisements, deceived voters with mailers sent by obvious front groups, and repeated one falsehood after another---hoping somehow that no one would ever notice.

Organic food proponents and consumer advocates Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé explain: "Sixty-one countries already require such labeling. But here in the U.S., GMOs took off in the 1990s with no public debate, and today they're in most processed foods, making Americans the world’s GMO guinea pigs."

Arguing that Question 1 is as much about democracy as it is about labeling GMO's food, Kaldveer writes: "Prop. 37 is about one and only one thing-- our right to know what's in our food, and make an informed choice about what we eat and feed our children."

"We can't allow our democracy to be hijacked by unscrupulous corporate interests willing to say and spend anything to protect their profits at the expense of real people, and our rights as free citizens," he said.

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