Organic farmers and others who backed Proposition 37 to label genetically engineered food said today that failure of the measure in California won't stop similar efforts in other states. They're looking north to Washington and Oregon and east to Connecticut and Vermont.
Even though 53 percent of California voters rejected Proposition 37, the measure gave a huge push to the the national movement to label genetically modified food, said Dave Murphy, a co-chair of the Yes on 37 campaign and executive director of Food Democracy Now.
"We won a moral victory," Murphy said. "We've exposed this issue nationally in a way that's never been done before."
Genetic engineering, also called genetic modifying, is a process in which scientists splice the DNA of one plant or animal and combine it with DNA from something else. Most often, the process is used to produce crops that are resistant to pests or can withstand being sprayed by weed killers such as RoundUp. Genetically modified corn, soy beans and canola are in thousands of common grocery products.
Some people oppose the technique, saying it is unnatural and could be harmful to the environment or human health. They want labels so shoppers who care about the issue can avoid GMOs at the store. Others say genetic engineering - also called biotechnology - is a safe way to produce food with desirable characteristics, and that special labels would imply a danger that hasn't been proven.
Anti-GMO activists are gathering signatures in Washington for a food labeling initiative they hope will make it on the November 2013 ballot, said Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, a major contributor to the Proposition 37 campaign.
They're hoping to run an initiative in Oregon, Cummins said, though signature gathering has not begun there. If it makes the ballot it would be the second time Oregon voters are asked to require labeling of genetically engineered food; they rejected a similar measure 10 years ago.
Advocates are also working on GMO labeling bills they hope the legislatures in Vermont and Connecticut will soon consider, Cummins said. He said he doesn't expect the federal government to act on the issue.
"Most activists believe our power is in the realm of educating the public, putting pressure in the organic and natural food sector and working at the state level," Cummins said.
He likened the GMO labeling issue to efforts to legalize marijuana, which voters in Washington and Colorado approved Tuesday.
"Like with marijuana legislation, voters took matters into their own hands," Cummins said.
"I think we're going to get some victories in the next 12 months and this will put additional pressure on the federal government."