Disappointed GMO Labeling Advocates in OR and CO

With more than $45 million poured in to defeat GMO labeling ballot initiatives in 2014, voters in Oregon and Colorado rejected ballot measures to label GMO foods. However, residents of Maui, HI, passed a ban on GMO agriculture by just over 1,000 votes.

GMO labeling advocates are rethinking national and state strategies after voters rejected ballot initiatives to label GMO foods in both Oregon and Colorado in statewide elections held on November 4.

In Colorado, the campaign to pass Proposition 105 to label GMO foods, which was hugely outspent by anti-labeling forces, suffered a significant defeat with 66% voting against, vs. 34% of voters in favor of labeling. Colorado residents were subjected to a withering barrage of television advertising in September and October by the No on 105 side, the supporters of which, including Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Pepsi, Kraft and General Mills and others, pumped nearly $17 million into the state vs. just under $1 million raised by the pro-labeling, Yes on 105 campaign.

In Oregon, the outcome was much closer, where Measure 92 to label GMOs was narrowly defeated by a razor-thin margin of less than 1% of the vote, with less than 51% of Oregonians voting no. Spending on both sides of the GMO labeling measure broke all state records for ballot measures in Oregon, with the pro-labeling, Yes on 92 side raising $8.1 million, while the No side poured $20.5 million into the state to defeat the ballot measure.

Maui Wins Big; Monsanto Threatens Litigation

However, in a big win to reign in the rampant escalation of GMO agriculture and pesticide use in Hawaii, a ballot referendum in Maui County was passed by just over 1,000 votes to place a moratorium on the growing of genetically engineered or GMO crops on the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai until they are cleared by environmental and safety studies. These islands have been major experimental grounds for new, untested GMO crops and pesticides, and residents have grown increasingly concerned about pesticide pollution of rivers and oceans, and health risks to communities located near experimental plots.

True to form, Monsanto has already threatened litigation to overturn the moratorium. According to Hawaii News Now, on November 5, Monsanto issued the following statement in response to the Maui referendum:

“We believe this referendum is invalid and contrary to long established state and federal laws that support both the safety and lawful testing and planting of GMO plants. If effective, the referendum will have significant negative consequences for the local economy, Hawaii agriculture and our business on the island. We are committed to ongoing dialogue as we take steps to ask the court to declare that this initiative is legally flawed and cannot be enforced. Monsanto and other allied parties will be joining together in this effort."

In another small but meaningful 2014 election victory, the citizens of Humboldt County, CA, approved a measure to prohibit the propagation, cultivation, raising, or growing of genetically modified organisms in the county. Humboldt joins Mendocino, Trinity, Santa Cruz and Marin Counties, which previously passed moratoriums or bans on GMOs. Also, two counties in Oregon have banned GMOs, along with San Juan County in Washington State, and the state of Vermont, which is currently facing a lawsuit from anti-labeling opponents including the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Who Is Funding the Anti-GMO Labeling Side?

Seeking to crush a groundswell movement in America to label genetically modified or GMO foods, a small group of multi-billion-dollar pesticide, biotech and “Big Food” companies poured more than $45 million into Colorado, Oregon and Hawaii in September and October to defeat the GMO labeling ballot initiatives.

Just two dozen corporations, including Monsanto, DuPont, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Kraft, Land O'Lakes, General Mills, Hershey, J.M. Smucker, Conagra, Dow Chemical Co., Kellogg, Smithfield Foods, and others, were responsible for more than $16 million of the $16.7 million total contributed to defeat the Colorado GMO labeling bill. Also of note among the donors seeking to defeat the Colorado GMO labeling bill were Abbot Nutrition and Mead Johnson, companies that make nutritional formulas for infants and the elderly – companies that do not want mandatory GMO labeling on their packaging.

Similarly, Monsanto, PepsiCo, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Land O'Lakes, General Mills, Hershey and other chemical and food multinationals topped the list of donors to the No on 92 campaign in Oregon. To see the list of donors to both the Yes and No sides in Oregon, visit http://gov.oregonlive.com/election/2014/finance/measure-92/.

In contrast, the underdog Right to Know Colorado campaign raised less than $1 million in cash and pledges, mostly through small business donations along with hundreds of $5, $10, and $25 contributions to the campaign from primarily Colorado citizens. Despite grassroots volunteer efforts, phone banks, door-to-door visits, social media, newspaper and digital advertising, plus major endorsements from leading Colorado media, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Whole Foods Market and more, the pro-GMO labeling campaign could not afford to counter any of the negative television advertising that blanketed the state from the No on 105 campaign.

“I can’t understand why these corporations would put $17 million into a Colorado campaign where the pro-labeling side raised less than $1 million,” said Larry Cooper, Co-chair of the Right to Know Colorado campaign. “What are they trying to hide?”

Presence Marketing a Major Contributor to Pro-Labeling Campaigns

Major contributors to Colorado's Yes on 105 and also the Oregon pro-labeling campaign included Presence Marketing/Dynamic Presence, Food Democracy Now, Organic Consumers Association, Annie's Inc., Dr. Bronner’s, Boulder Brands and others. For a complete list visit www.righttoknowcolorado.org/donors and www.oregonrighttoknow.org/endorsements.

Grassroots organizations endorsing the Right to Know Colorado ballot initiative included Moms Across America, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Colorado Moms for GMO Labeling, Conservation Colorado, Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, Hazon, and others.

Seeing the rising tide of consumer and citizen support for GMO labeling as a threat to profits, Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Pepsi, Coke, Kraft, Grocery Manufacturers Association, and other pesticide, biotech and junk food companies have teamed up to spend nearly $150 million over the past three years to defeat GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California and Washington in 2012 and 2013, and in Oregon and Colorado this year.

More than 93% of Americans want GMO labeling, according to a 2013 New York Times survey. Yet, less than three dozen chemical, pesticide and junk food companies continue to fight history with a withering amount of cash, deceptive advertising, and threats of lawsuits to confuse voters and legislators about GMO labeling - and to buy our elections.

The Fight Will Continue in Washington D.C.

Scott Faber, executive director of the Just Label It campaign, said the recent election defeats in Oregon and Colorado "only strengthens our resolve to fight for consumers' right to know what's in their food. Now, the fight will shift to the nation's capital, where the same food companies who were fighting the right to know will be seeking to block state laws and make it harder for the FDA to craft a national mandatory disclosure system."

For information and to support GMO labeling, visit www.justlabelit.org, www.righttoknowcolorado.org and www.oregonrighttoknow.org.

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural Marketing, providing marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. Contact steve@compassnatural.com, tel 303.807.1042.