The grassroots petition in California to mandate the labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods has garnered almost double the amount of signatures needed to place the issue on the state ballot for the November 2012 election.
Over the last two months, citizens across the state partnered with LabelGMOs.org to collect 971,126 signatures in support of the California Right to Know Initiative, well over the minimum requirement of 555,236. The signatures were submitted to election officials on Wednesday, and once they are certified, the measure will be approved for inclusion on ballots statewide.
The initiative's founder, Chico resident Pamm Larry, praised the activists who helped the effort reach this important milestone. "I am so proud of the army of volunteers, most of them mothers and grandmothers, who stood tireless [sic] in the rain and cold to gather signatures," she said in a press release.
Representatives in around 20 other states have sponsored similar laws over the past year, according to the Wall Street Journal, but many of these efforts have been stifled by opposition in state legislatures. What makes the California initiative different is that the people -- not the politicians -- get to vote on whether genetically engineered foods must be labeled.
"This is definitely the best hope we have for getting a labeling law, and we think we're going to win," said Gary Ruskin, the campaign manager for California Right to Know.
The Huffington Post reports that around 90% of registered Democrats, Republicans and Independents support the labeling of GM food in California.
Pollster Mark Hellman pointed to the disconnect between popular opinion and government policy in an article for The Hill. "Given this overwhelming public demand, it is hard to imagine why the FDA has, to date, refused to do what the entirety of the EU, Brazil, Russia, South Korea and even China have already done — require labels on genetically engineered foods."
The measure is backed by the Organic Consumers' Association, Nature's Path, the Institute for Responsible Technology and other organic food advocates.
LabelGMOs.org released the following video several weeks ago to encourage Californians to support the initiative:
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, a physician and nutritional expert, the passage of this initiative could have a profound effect on the entire nation. "California has the eighth largest economy in the world," he stated in a recent Huffington Post blog entry, "so passing a labeling law for genetically engineered foods in California can have the same impact as passing a federal law."
Several opponents have already spoken out against the measure, including GM food giant Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents ConAgra, Kellogg and other industry leaders.
Richard Lobb, managing director of the Council for Biotechnology Information, accused the initiative's backers of fear mongering. “They basically are trying to scare consumers through labeling,” Lobb told Bloomberg. “The obvious objective is to push biotechnology out of the market altogether.”
David Ropeik, a risk measurement consultant based in the New England area, countered Lobb's claim. “Labeling gives you the feeling of choice,” Ropeik explained. “When you give people choice, it makes them less afraid.”
Digital Journal writer Anne Sewell has produced many in-depth reports on issues surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs), including the risks presented by Monsanto's "rootworm resistant" corn, the massive crop failures that have resulted from usage of Bt cotton in India, and the admission by the Polish Health Minister that GM maize could be responsible for both health problems in humans and sharp declines in the honeybee population.
"These products have become a trademark of the Monsanto corporation, who has taken over a large percentage of the seed market in the U.S.," Sewell wrote in a recent article. "Controversy continues as to the health risks and danger to the eco-system from these genetically modified crops."
Even though the initiative has taken a major step forward, there is still more work to be done, according to Dr. Mercola. Monsanto and other agribusiness firms are expected to throw millions of dollars into political advertising against the measure, and supporters of the initiative have begun the "money bomb" phase of their campaign to counter that effort. "Let's send them a message loud and clear," Mercola declared. "We have the right to know what they put into our food!"