Proposition 37, the California initiative to label genetically modified food, was defeated last night with a 53% majority vote against the proposed labeling law.
But just because this battle was lost, those behind the Yes on 37 campaign say the war is far from over. The group is focusing on the 4.3 million Californians who voted yes on the proposition, as well as the fact that the campaign built a grassroots movement with more than 10,000 volunteers and more than $2 million raised online. All that momentum won't just go away. "There's a huge amount of energy to go forward and win this fight," says Stacy Malkan, Media Director for the pro-labeling group California Right to Know.
Her sentiment is echoed on the campaign statement the group put out on their website this morning: "Yesterday, we showed that there is a food movement in the United States, and it is strong, vibrant and too powerful to stop ... We will keep fighting for consumer choice, fairness and transparency in our food system. And we will prevail."
It's too early to say what might be next for California, but there are rumblings of a GMO labeling law in Washington state as volunteers gather signatures for the new I-522 measure to be put on the ballot in 2013. There are also legislative efforts in Maine and Vermont, the group Just Label It has gathered more than 1 million signatures to petition the FDA for a labeling law, and many are asking whether President Obama will use his second term to make good on his 2007 campaign promise to label GMO foods.
Most of all, the proposition brought genetically modified foods and products into the national spotlight. I personally knew little about GM foods before I started writing about Prop 37, and since have had dozens of conversations with friends and others in the food community about the issue. The amount of media attention paid to the ballot measure in California, including think pieces from national food writers like Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, and Marion Nestle, ensures that the GMO conversation will continue long after the memory of Prop. 37 fades.
One of the best analyses I read this morning came from Mother Jones' Tom Philpott, who asked, "Did California Voters Defeat the Food Movement Along With Prop. 37?" (Short answer: No. Or as Philpott put it: "Given the formidability and deep pockets of the opposition, I think it's overblown to treat Prop 37 as a pass-fail test of the food movement's political viability.")
Labeling law or no, those who want to avoid GM foods can always buy organic, or consult this booklet the Center for Food Safety put together on non-GMO foods. The Non-GMO Project also has a database of verified products on their website.