by Marion Nestle
Nov 9 2012

Proposition 37 take-home lesson: the power of money in politics

The take-home lesson from the defeat of Proposition 37—GMO labeling—is crystal clear.

As Tom Philpott explains in his Mother Jones post,

No fewer than two massive sectors of the established food economy saw it as a threat: the GMO seed/agrichemical industry, led by giant companies Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, and Bayer; and the food-processing/junk-food industries who transform GMO crops into profitable products, led by Kraft, Nestle, Coca-Cola, and their ilk. Collectively, these companies represent billions in annual profits; and they perceived a material threat to their bottom lines in the labeling requirement, as evidenced by the gusher of cash they poured into defeating it.

The proof lies in this remarkable graph of poll results produced by Pepperdine University/California Business Roundtable.  Polling results started to shift only after the October 1 start of the “No on 37” television ad campaign.

Philpott and others see this defeat as just the beginning of a strong increase in public concern about the role of money in politics.

As for labeling of GMOs:  As I’ve said before, proposition 37 deserved support, and GMOs should be labeled.

In a way, it’s hard to understand why the industry thinks it is justified to put $46 million ($46 million!) into defeating a labeling initiative.   The world has not come to an end.


In response to European public pressure, McDonald’s, another American company, produces its products without GMOs.

Demands for GMO labeling are not going to go away.

The heavy-handed industry campaign against labeling ought to have some consequences.  One is likely to be increasing support for efforts to Just Label It.


I’ve just seen the tough analysis by Jason Mark, Editor, Earth Island Journal:

As far as I can tell, the Prop 37 campaign failed to put together a field campaign capable of countering the flood of deceptive ads broadcast by the No campaign…

I don’t understand why the Prop 37 campaigners tried to fight on the airwaves in the first place. From Moment One they knew they would be hugely outspent on TV, radio and web ads…

When you’re the underdog, you don’t go toe-to-toe with the big guy. You have to resort to asymmetrical warfare, guerilla warfare. In electoral politics, that means prioritizing the ground war(organizers and activists) over the air war (paid advertisements)…

the good food movement needs to recommit itself to building power through old-fashioned, Saul Alinsky style organizing.

  • isaacschumann

    KE, two peer reviewed studies… while you haven’t presented a single piece of evidence to support any of the things you’ve said.

    “If your research is actually going to span thousands of years before actually using GM and not have a result in your lifetime or many lifetimes to come, I applaud your work. In fact, it’s exactly what the world needs.”

    you should think before you write things like this…

  • Ewan R

    “When soil is depleted, you cannot return to the status quo.”

    What does that have to do with GMOs? Any crop grown depletes the soil. Using roundup or Bt doesn’t have a huge impact here (although using roundup allows for more utilization of no-till, which reduces soil erosion). I also get the feeling you’re employing some magical thinking around soil depletion given that there aren’t really cases where nothing will grow in soil (even in soil we’ve purposefully removed as much nitrogen as possible from by growing sorghum on it for 2 straight seasons you can still grow corn without adding additional N fertilizer, Soy the prior season adds something in the region of 30-60lbs N per acre, and frankly if you have a cropping method which doesn’t deplete the soil you can get in the same line as the guy who invented the perpetual motion machine for your prize)

    “Overuse of pesticides (herbicides, insecticides): weeds and insects become resistant AND the soil is depleted, crops die, and crops can no longer grow in the soil, surrounding water is polluted from run-off, dead zones, the environmental effects go on and on”

    Weeds becoming resistant to a herbicide is a problem only for that herbicide. If you aren’t using the herbicide the resistance is a non-issue. Likewise insects and insecticides. One has to provide some sort of evidence that either herbicides or insecticides deplete soil (and give some definition of what exactly you mean, as msot farmland in the US has been under insecticide and herbicide coverage for decades and yields are still trending upwards) – you’re essentially here inventing some dystopian reality which doesn’t synch with the real world and using it as a basis for arguement.

    “Overuse of antibiotics: people become resistant”

    Really? Is this what you think? People become resistant to antibiotics?

    “So maybe you can make another pesticide (herbicide, insecticide) that weeds and insects will not be resistant to, but the soil will continue to be depleted from these inputs and environmental problems will persist. ”

    Hey, why not jsut do away with pesticides entirely then right? That way we can reduce crop production enormously and have good healthy soil that produces absolutely bloody nothing without hugely more effort on behalf of the farmer.

    On Indian Cotton production:-

    I’ll stop there for now, although the abvove is merely the tip of the iceberg – (the final link is particularly pertinent giving as it does the historic yield values for cotton in India, the breakdown of net changes in yield, income, pesticide use etc for farmers after adopting Bt cotton etc.

    I’m sure however you’ll soundly reject this information, seems rather sad, you ask for the science, provide none of your own, and simply ignore (failing to even offer counter arguements) what is presented.

  • KE

    After a quick google search, I realized that I am debating with a blog troll.

    I’m sorry to have even given you space to spit your nonsense.

    Take home message:

    As long as corn remains cheap and the farm bill tailors to Big Business lobbyists,

    as long as biotech companies are allowed to patent seeds which by extension are life,

    as long as fast food restaurants are allowed to spend billions brainwashing citizens into “choosing” highly addictive foods,

    as long as real food remains a lost part of our culture,

    there is no choice. Life-long robust health will be lost as well.

    Have a beautiful day!!!

  • Mike Femia

    Ewan, I’m pitching an article on the ag-consumer disconnect for the trade press. Since I don’t have the editorial green light yet, any discussion would be off the record for now, but if you or a colleague would be willing to lend some insight, it’d be helpful. -Michael (

  • isaacschumann

    Sorry, Ewan, no matter what you say, you’ll always be the bad guy 🙁

  • Ewan R

    Isaac – alas a variation of the ad hominem I am more than familiar with. That’s fine, I see it as a concession of defeat on KE’s behalf – if my arguements were flawed or bad in themselves KE could have countered, lacking a counter you throw up a variation of the pharma-shill gambit and hope the audience at large is too stupid to see the giant logical fallacy in the room (it’s right there, sitting on the elephant) – with the benefit that so long as you can also trick yourself you don’t have to do anything difficult like alter your opinions. (it is amusing that KE assumes xe gave me space for anything though, speaks to some sort of delusion of grandeur, equally amusing is that because someone happens to get involved in arguements on a topic regularly they must be a troll (I demand to only converse about this with people who don’t talk about it, preferably people with no actual hands on experience with the topic at hand!))

  • Pingback: Saturday Surfing()

  • Foster Boondoggle

    To all those, including Prof. Nestle, who advocate for labeling on what she refers to as values-based grounds (“right to know”, concern about corporate control of food supplies, desire to not consume anything that originated in a lab, etc.), I have a question. What’s wrong with a voluntary labeling scheme? Like the one that exists for organic food. There are already private certification organizations that provide verified “non-GMO” labeling. And as I understand it, Whole Foods has fully excluded GM products from their distribution. Of course there’s a cost to this, but that’s presumably a cost you’re willing to pay, right?

    In other words, if you have a values-based reason for wanting to avoid GMOs (like the values-based reasons for eating kosher or halal), what barrier do you face in getting what you want, other than cost? And conversely, if your desire is values-based, why should you be allowed to impose the cost of compliance on the rest of us who don’t share your values?

  • Pingback: Proposition 37: A Requiem « Global Food Politics()

  • Pingback: | 363News()

  • Pingback: Encouraging people to act locally, leaders from about 500 towns are getting involved in difficult to take action by implementing system goals associated with exercise and nutrition. Initiating public service announcements with Disney, Major League and Nat()

  • Pingback: Saturday Surfing - Au Coeur()