Prop 37 defeated: a retrospective

| November 7, 2012 |
california breakdown

California’s Proposition 37, which would have required labeling for some genetically engineered foods, suffered a clear loss (57 percent to 43 percent) in last night’s general election. Support for the labeling initiative was high at first, with popularity reaching 60 percent according to opinion polls, but collapsed over the course of the last month. To many, including Leon Kaye at Triple Pundit, this collapse was the direct result of tremendous spending by Monsanto and other “Big Food” companies to campaign against the labeling of GM foods. Andrew Pollack, at the New York Times, offers an excellent breakdown of the raw facts, including the imbalance of campaign spending, around Prop 37′s defeat, but it’s hardly the whole story.

As news of 37′s defeat makes the rounds, some are heaving a sigh of relief. Andrew Revkin, in the Times’s Dot Earth blog, writes that he is “glad that the sloppy, unscientific and protectionist initiative failed, but glad an important discussion of transparency in food sourcing has begun.” This discussion, however, has been ongoing for weeks. By election night,  Prop 37 and California had become a nation-wide case study for GMO labeling.

Keith Kloor, at Slate, pulled no punches this Monday in “Delusions of Danger”, which attacks the proposition not just for its shaky scientific grounding (a common complaint), but calls it “politically stupid” as well. Earlier this fall, both of the the leading voices on matters of food, Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, made their cases for Prop 37. In October, Pollan framed the initiative in terms of a burgeoning food movement, a sentiment we’re seeing echoed by others today. Bittman took a rather less gentle approach, writing in mid-September:

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that almost everyone wants to see the labeling of genetically engineered materials contained in their food products. And on Nov. 6, in what’s unquestionably among the most important non-national votes this year, Californians will have the opportunity to make that happen — at least in theory — by weighing in on Proposition 37.”

Not everyone who identified as a foodie was in favor of the labeling initiative, however. Alexandra Le Tellier at the Los Angeles Times offered an excellent walk-through of how she, as a self-described “health-conscious foodie,” eventually sided against the initiative.

And whether or not the “food movement” framed by folks like Pollan and rallied by Grist is even a ready to be considered a bona-fide movement is still an open question. Jason Mark at the Earth Island Journal called the movement “half-baked” in this critical examination of what the defeat of Prop 37 means for the food movement, though he also offers suggestions for how the movement might build the infrastructure it needs to make real political change.

It remains to be seen whether the failure of Prop 37 is a successful vetting of GM crops by the California people or a successful study in “Big Food’s” ability to throw its weight around. Now that it has happened, and voters have weighed in, the GLP will be keeping a close eye on the fallout.

A few more perspectives: