AltHealthWORKS.com caught up with Stacy Malkan, Media Director of the California Right to Know Campaign, for an in-depth look at what’s happening on the ground in the Golden State, which will decide whether to require food companies to add labels to products containing genetically modified foods (aka genetically modified organisms, or GMOs) on November 6’s Election Day.
If passed, the measure, Proposition 37, could become a precedent setter for the rest of the country due to the enormous strength and influence of California’s food economy.
Genetically modified crops, mostly non-organic corn, soy, canola, sugar beets (listed as “sugar”) and cotton have been banned or at least labeled in dozens of countries, and a recent French study linked GMO corn to massive tumors in lab rats, leading to more bans and studies throughout the world.
Here’s the interview:
AHW: Can you talk a little bit about the Right to Know campaign, how it got started and what the latest news is?
SM: Sure, so Prop 37 is a huge people’s movement for the Right to Know what’s in our food, and people have been trying to get labeling of genetically modified foods in the United States for 20 years and haven’t been able to because of the huge power of the chemical industry lobby.
So more than a million people signed a petition and wrote comments to the FDA this spring asking for labeling laws but haven’t been able to do so…so in California we’re taking it straight to the voters through the citizens’ initiative process.
AHW: So how did this vote come up, mainly through proper strategizing? How did this manage to get to the ballot while other ones didn’t? I know there was a lawsuit threat by Monsanto that stopped the one in Vermont.
SM: This truly came from the grassroots up, these people are so frustrated at the failure of our democratic system to provide something that 90 percent of the people want (according to nationwide polling), so we went out and started organizing in California and built a grassroots network of volunteers; many of them are moms and grandmothers who want to know what’s in their food.
We started to organize for a ballot drive which is a difficult undertaking in California, you have to get 550,000 signatures in ten weeks, that’s a massive undertaking and we were able to get almost a million signatures, so we easily got on the November ballot and now we’re going for the win. We’re far ahead in the polls right now but there’s a 32 million dollar campaign of deception being waged by Monsanto and DuPont, the same companies that told us that DDT and Agent Orange were safe, and the largest pesticide and junk food companies in the world that don’t want us to know about the genetic engineering of our food system.
AHW: How are the polls looking in California? Like we talked about earlier, over 90 percent of people nationwide want labeling.
SM: The polls have consistently been 90 percent in favor (nationwide). Polls on the initiative been pretty consistent here, at about 67 percent through the summer (in California) and that’s what they’re at now; I think another one coming out this week. Polling has been done through Pepperdine University, they’ve been keeping track of all ballot initiatives in California and those are the numbers we’ve been using.
AHW: What is it like on the ground right now in California and what changes have you noticed since all of this 32 million started pouring in on side of the Biotech and pesticide industries? Has there been a surge in news coverage, radio, or billboard ads for example?
SM: So far it’s been an aggressive radio campaign along with an online ad campaign. TV hasn’t started but we’re expecting it to start soon (this week). Their ads don’t talk about genetic engineering, they are trying to whip up fears about the initiative.
AHW: They’re mostly trying to scare people by focusing on the supposed increased costs of putting a label on food, something that companies do all the time with little fanfare. Is that where you expect they’ll take the campaign as we get closer to Election Day, toward scaring people that have been hurt by the economy?
SM: The costs didn’t go up in Europe, and they won’t go up here. It’s pretty simple but they’ll say anything.
AHW: Can you remember any sort of proposition that garnered this much funding in California (about $32 million from big chemical and food companies for “No” and about $4 million for supporters of true natural food and the ‘Right to Know’)?
SM: Yes, it’s actually pretty typical…There was I think an interesting recent parallel with the tobacco tax in June, I think the tobacco industry spent 50 million while the other side spent 10 million. The “yes” side was far ahead in polls…and was narrowly defeated at the last minute. The tobacco industry won, which was pretty disturbing.
But that was a tax, it was a different set of issues and this is just a label, it’s so simple, it’s not rocket science. It’s providing consumers information and it doesn’t cost anything to provide consumers with information.
We’ve got the California Democratic Party on our side, the largest unions in the state, thousands of farmers, millions of moms and a true people’s movement against out of state corporations and the pesticide and junk food corporations who don’t want us to know what’s in our food.
AHW: If someone wants to help the California campaign for Yes on 37, what do you most need? Awareness…money…?
SM: Money…We need money (laughing). Every little bit counts and that’s very important. Also, join us on our website www.carighttoknow.org; join us on Facebook and Twitter. We’ve got a huge following and our own media machine online and that’s really important, to connect with that and share with your friends.
AHW: Some people say even if the “Yes” side ends up winning there’s some concern that there could be legal tricks the other side might try to pull. Is the campaign aware of this, and do they have a strategy for what to do in that case?
SM: Yeah, we’ll keep fighting, certainly they’re going to pull tricks but the initiative is solid and they won’t be able to overturn it in the courts. Probably what they’ll try to do is overturn it with the federal government but I think there will be too much pressure across the country for labeling that it will be unstoppable.
AHW: What are the reactions from people who don’t know what GMOs are, how does that conversation usually go?
SM: I think people are surprised to find out about genetic engineering because they don’t know, it’s been hidden from the American public that a lot of our foods have been genetically engineered without (proper and unbiased) safety studies, without labeling, and it’s markedly different in 50 other countries around the world where consumers do know about genetically engineered food. People are surprised but it’s about a growing movement of awareness about our food.
AHW: With this being such a far-reaching issue, are you seeing big-time political leaders or even celebrity endorsements, as well as activists coming in from out of state?
SM: There’s been a lot of national press attention certainly. We’ve seen a lot of celebrity endorsements and a lot of prominent people coming in. But this is truly people’s movement started by the moms of California and I think that they will win in November.
Thanks for reading and be sure to like us on Facebook for more comprehensive natural health interviews, articles, news, infographics and commentary in the coming weeks and months.