(MintPress) – Lost in the whirlwind that is Election Day in the United States is the impact of the rejection of California’s Proposition 37 that would have required most foods made with genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled. The measure failed, disappointing those who say food with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have unclear long-term health impacts.
But what is seen as a loss for many voters is a decisive victory for global food magnets, such as Monsanto, that use GMOs in their food. The passage of recreational marijuana use laws in Colorado and Washington could also play a role in Monsanto’s expansion, as speculation has mounted as to whether the mogul has stockpiled varying strains of cannabis seed patents to ready themselves for a launch in legalization.
Monsanto is the leading producer in GMO seeds intended for agricultural use and a leading lobbying arm in Washington D.C., having spent a total of more than $4.7 million in 2012. Had Prop 37 passed, Monsanto would have been required to put proper notifications of GMO use on its products in California.
Others speculate that it may have been the start of the death of Monsanto’s ubiquitous seeds. But the money trail points to a concerted effort to see that the measure failed, as food and beverage giants teamed up to contribute funding to purchase advertising and spread their message.
According to Common Dreams, financial contributions to pass Prop 37 between consumers, organic farmers and other businesses totaled $8.2 million. But with a nearly unlimited financial prowess, corporations such as Monsanto, PepsiCo and DuPont spent more than $48.7 million. Grant Lundberg, CEO of Lundberg Family Farms, said the money alone bought votes and doomed what was largely a grassroots effort.
“We have been shut down by biotech on this issue,” Lundberg said. “They have had a big impact. They have gotten their lies out and confused people. We have limited resources.”
Purchasing a manipulation platform
On the surface, it seems counterintuitive for California voters to shut down a measure that prevents GMOs, particularly since recent studies indicate a potential health risk with GMO consumption. A study from France that was published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology saw rats that were fed corn sprayed with Monsanto’s common herbicide Roundup develop health problems that included tumors and kidney and liver damage.
But there is a level of awareness not known by many consumers, says Melinda Suelflow, an activist with the Organic Consumers Association. In an interview with MintPress, Suelflow noted that only 25 percent of Americans are aware of whether or not their foods contain any GMOs. However, at least 70 percent of processed foods in the U.S. contain genetically modified ingredients, according to the Food and Drug Administration. That disconnect, she noted, may have played a role in the vote’s conclusion.
However, a bigger impact on the vote, Suelflow said, was the level of advertising that food and chemical companies put toward the efforts to defeat the measure. In order for Monsanto to earn a victory and operate with its current status quo, it had to spin the narrative of the vote in a way that made it seem like voters were protecting their economic safety rather than food safety, she said.
“They didn’t defeat the measure because they had a message that labeling genetically modified foods is not good – we know that the people want their food labeled. Basically what happened was they came out about a month before the election with a massive advertising campaign … with confusing messages that stoked fear,” Suelflow said. “The messages said the exemptions to the measure were confusing; it’s going to cost consumers more because companies are going to supposedly pass on to consumers the cost of labeling. So what they did with that level of advertising was to perpetuate confusion not about the measure itself, but that it was a poorly written initiative.”
The misconceptions within the advertisements created such a stir that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is looking into charges of a wrongful use of authority, as opponents to Prop 37 put the logo to the FDA under a quote that the FDA claims it never said. The official complaint from the California Right to Know offices say that “the use of the FDA’s seal and authority for political purposes appears to be in clear violation of criminal statutes.”
Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project, said California voters were subjected to a bankroll of misleading and falsified statements that should be investigated for their criminal nature.
“The opposition spent $46 million on a misinformation campaign that was full of lies and unethical (illegal?) tactics,” Westgate wrote on the organization’s Facebook page. “And in spite of that, 4.6 million Californians (47 percent) still voted yes. This vote has brought the GMO issue into the national spotlight, and it’s not going away.”
And that seems to be the general consensus of those who supported Prop 37: It fulfilled its role in raising awareness on the GMO issue. Suelflow noted that there are already campaign efforts underway in Washington and Florida to have the GMO issue put on state ballots in the future elections.
“We’re not entirely defeated. … It was a David versus Goliath fight. We were up against over $46 million from biochemical companies. … We’re already looking ahead as to how to keep the movement going forward and what we can do with this amazing breath of energy that we have come into,” Suelflow said. “We’re not going away. You will see up popping up more and more on the ballot.”
A loss is Monsanto’s gain
With claims of fraudulent advertising and spending disparities, the actually meaning behind the denial of Prop 37 remains unclear. But Monsanto was fair to have its business practices at the forefront of its worries. Market response to a potential GMO labeling law could have been catastrophic for bio-agriculture firm. In the European Union, GMO labeling has been in the law books since 1997. As a result, consumers have essentially written off GMO foods, destroying the market.
In a move earlier in the year, BASF, a German-based chemical group, said it was abandoning all efforts to sell GMO foods in Europe. Stefan Marcinowski, a BASF board member, told the New York Times that the GMO market is cornered in the U.S. because of its lack of acceptance in Europe.
“There is still a lack of acceptance for this technology in many parts of Europe — from the majority of consumers, farmers and politicians,” Marcinowski said. “Therefore, it does not make business sense to continue investing in products exclusively for cultivation in this market.”
But in America, genetically engineered crop consumption is by far the world’s largest. Studies suggest that two-thirds of global GMO seed sales come from the U.S. market, accounting for $13.3 billion. Had California’s Prop 37 gone against Monsanto, it could have snowballed state-to-state and buried the GMO practice.
The passage of recreational marijuana use laws in Colorado and Washington could also open the door for Monsanto to patent cannabis strains in states that begin regulating recreational marijuana use. Past attempts at marijuana legalization on the state level, such as Proposition 19 in California, revealed close ties to business moguls and Monsanto. George Soros, a billionaire investor, donated $1 million to the Prop 19 cause in 2010 to help push for the legalization of marijuana in California.
Despite its ultimate defeat, Soros was demonstrating a business-savvy approach, as he is a top investor in Monsanto. Soros’ investment in the proposition came after author and writer Dragonfly de la Luz claimed that Monsanto was formulating patents to use for the growing of cannabis after state legalizations. With the American marijuana market being estimated as high as $120 billion, it makes sense that Soros would invest in one of the ultimate beneficiaries of legalization.
In Canada, worries of companies seizing control of cannabis seed patents go as far back as 2000 when Reverend Damuzi of Cannabis Culture wrote that legalization laws with state or federal regulations could open the door for Monsanto to facilitate the growing process and seeds needed. At a debate at the 2010 International Hemp Expo, de la Luz said Monsanto could hoard different strains of cannabis and sue anyone growing those strains without Monsanto permission.
“Cannabis seeds from Monsanto are almost definitely genetically engineered. Genetically engineered plants can be patented, and it is in Monsanto’s best interest to hold a patent on any seed they sell,” Damuzi wrote. “Seed patents ensure that companies like Monsanto can continue to profit from seeds from year to year, as farmers are legally bound to buy patented seeds from the patent holder rather than simply store them from the last year’s crop.”