For months leading up to the 2012 U.S. election, I traveled throughout the state of California in a Volkswagen campervan wrapped in the Proposition 37 “Right to Know” logo, rallying support for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
I was just one of thousands on the grassroots level of this historic battle, and we put up quite a fight—proving that a group of dedicated, passionate people can stand up against corporate greed and corruption. Even after the world’s largest pesticide and junk food companies spent over $46 million to bombard voters with mistruths, over 6 million Californians still voted yes, and we nearly won. In the end, it came down to just a few percentage points, with 48.6 percent voting yes and 51.4 no.
Whether it was won or lost, Prop. 37 elevated awareness about GMOs worldwide. The top question now is “What’s next?”
A National Awakening
“Long before November 6, I knew that we had already won,” says Pamm Larry, the grandmother who launched LabelGMOs.org and the Prop. 37 initiatives. “When we launched this effort, most Americans didn’t even know what a GMO was, and now because of Prop. 37, millions are paying attention to the issue.” On the national level tens of thousands of people signed the petition to support the federal GMO labeling initiative, Just Label It.
“The fact that food multinationals spent so much money against Prop. 37 infuriated people. No one likes to have decisions made by corporate takeover,” says Gary Hirshberg, the chair of Just Label It and co-founder of Stonyfield Farm. “From journalists and politicians to activists and celebrities, many people are now aware that Americans don’t have the same kind of protections that citizens in 60 other countries have and they are stepping forward to show support for labeling.”
Additionally, more than 30 states are now working on GMO labeling efforts. Washington State recently submitted over 340,000 signatures, qualifying it for the 2013 ballot, and Vermont and Connecticut are also working to push laws through this year.
During the month of October, the Non-GMO Project, which provides third-party non-GMO verification, saw inquiries almost double, and this influx has remained steady. “People are waking up to the issue and demanding non-GMO,” says Megan Westgate, executive director. “Now that they know, they’re going to keep voting with their wallets, and those votes are going to change the future of our food.”
While the battle of Prop 37 is over, the fight for GMO labeling in the U.S. has just begun. Prop 37’s steering committee has its sights set on California’s 2014 ballot. In the meantime many are focusing on Washington State’s I-522 initiative. With the GMO apple set to be one of the next U.S. debuts from the biotech industry, labeling is critical to protect Washington’s apple export market and politicians and farmers are stepping forward in support.
Nationally, Just Label It is focused on getting a response from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on its petition for federal GMO labeling, which was submitted last March with a record 1.1 million signatures. Since then, 200,000 signatures have been added, and when the total reaches 2 million, the petition will be resubmitted.
Green America also recently launched “GMO Inside,” a consumer activism and education project that uses stickers and shelf talkers to identify products that likely contain GMOs. Photos of these items are then shared with the masses via social media. “If corporations won’t label GMOs, then we the people will” is the campaign’s rallying cry. GMO Inside is also aiming to get hundreds of thousands of consumers to do one big action a month and participate in “GMO-Free Fridays.”
Brands should also think about joining the Non-GMO Project, now one of the fastest growing labels according to SPINS research. I also urge you to get involved by spreading the word via social media and donating to groups that are fighting this fight. While we all can’t hit the road and live in a VW campervan, each of us can get involved in some way, so get off the sidelines and join the fight. We need you. To sign the federal petition and join over 600 other organizations fighting for federal GMO labeling visit JustLabelIt.org.
Kat Schuett is an international health and sustainability journalist, the former editor of Organic Processing magazine, and was an organic outreach partner for Yes on 37. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.