As election days draws near, a collection of agribusiness and food corporations have spent more than $45 million in an effort to defeat a California ballot measure that would require the labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods.
Proposition 37, the 'California Right to Know Act,' would require labeling of many-- but not all-- foods containing genetically modified components and would prohibit marketing such foods as "natural."
Supporters of Prop 37 assert that Californians have a right to know what's in the food they eat, just like consumers in 61 countries already do. Organic farmers, environmentalist groups, health industry groups, labor unions and the state Democratic party are among those who back the initiative.
Opponents argue that Prop 37 is deceptive, deeply flawed, full of special interest exemptions and would cost farmers and consumers billions of additional dollars.
According to MapLight, a "non-partisan research organization that reveals money's influence on politics," the top 10 contributors to the 'No on Prop 37' campaign have given more than $29 million towards defeating the measure.
These are: Monsanto ($8.1 million), E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Co. ($5.4 million), Pepsico ($2.1 million), Grocery Manufacturers Association ($2.0 million), Syngenta ($2.0 million), Bayer Cropscience ($2.0 million), Dow Agrosciences ($2.0 million), BASF Plant Science ($2.0 million), Kraft Foods Global ($1.95 million) and Coca-Cola ($1.7 million).
Of the top 10 contributors to the 'Yes on Prop 37' campaign, only two-- Mercola.com Health Resources and seed-saving guru Kent Whealy-- have spent a million dollars or more.
The agribusiness and food companies opposed to the measure have outspent the 'Yes on 37' side by about 5-1.
"I think it's a David and Goliath story with the companies that manufacture or benefit from genetically modified food being Goliath," MapLight President David Newman told the Guardian.
"When you see this lopsided spending it indicates that the measure is popular with voters and opponents think they need to spend a lot to defeat it. There is a lot at stake here not just in California but how it will trend in the rest of the country," Newman added.
Indeed, an poll conducted by Zogby earlier this year found that 87 percent of Americans believe that GM foods should be labeled. A separate poll by San Francisco, California TV station KCBS found that 91 percent of Californians backed GM labeling, although recent polls showed greatly diminished support for the measure-- currently just below 50 percent. The constant bombardment of 'No on 37' ads, many of them containing deceptive or outright false statements, has helped to erode support for the initiative.
While agribusiness corporations and the US government claim that genetically modified foods are perfectly safe, there have been nearly no long-term scientific studies to determine whether or not they are indeed safe. One recently reported long-term study of rats fed a lifetime diet of Monsanto GM corn found that they suffered from much higher than normal rates of cancer and died significantly earlier than control rats.
There is also compelling evidence that GM foods may cause severe health and environmental problems, and the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has warned the public to avoid GM foods, claiming "there is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects, there is causation."
Around 90 percent of the corn and soybean crop grown in the United States is genetically modified.