Voters in California and North Dakota rejected two ballot initiatives that were opposed by agriculture groups.
Californians rejected Proposition 37, that would have mandated genetically modified foods (GM) to be labeled as such, and North Dakota voters rejected Measure 5, the proposal that that would have created a felony penalty for malicious cruelty to a dog, cat or horse.
Proposition 37 was defeated 53 percent to 47 percent, and Measure 5 was defeated 67 percent to 33 percent.
Opposition to Prop 37 came from a host of companies and individuals – many from outside the state – who injected $46 million into defeating the initiative. Those supporting the measure raised $9.2 million.
Supporters of Prop 37 relied on social media and a strong grass-roots campaign in an effort to sway voters to adopt the nation’s first GMO food labeling law. The state-wide battle was a high-profile fight because it pitted businesses against businesses. Big natural-food companies, celebrity chefs and several organic farmers supported Prop 37, while a variety of traditional farmers and chemical, seed and processed-food firms opposed the measure.
Proposition 37 gained significant exposure outside California, with many new-age food writers and celebrities supporting the measure. People such as The New York Times’ Mark Bittman urged Californians to vote for Prop 37, saying, “even if there were a way to guarantee that food produced with GMO ingredients is not directly bad for you, it remains clear that such food is in general bad for all of us, based on the collateral damage from producing it.”
But such arguments lost steam when local California writers such as The Los Angeles Times Alexandra Le Tellier questioned the science behind some anti-GMO research. “Is it (research) credible?” she asked. “Or is it science for the sake of fulfilling an agenda?” After noting that much of the criticism of GMO foods centered around pesticides, Le Tellier asked, “If the problem is the pesticides, then why isn’t the Proposition 37 labeling initiative about that?”
Supporters of the measure argued that consumers have a right to know what's in their food and that information should be made available on labels. About 60 countries around the world already require such labels, proponents stressed.
Opponents countered that labeling foods would cost families hundreds of dollars a year in higher grocery bills. They also accused the initiative of sowing fear that genetically engineered foods are unsafe.
In North Dakota, veterinarians, animal shelters and others who care for and about animals had found them-selves on opposing sides over Measure 5, which would not have applied to production agriculture or to lawful activities of hunters, trappers, licensed veterinarians or scientific researchers, or to people acting in defense of life or property.
North Dakota and South Dakota are the only states without a felony animal abuse penalty.
“We’re pleased that the North Dakota voters took a closer look at this, and we want to continue now to further the work on animal protection and do it the right way,” Jason Schmidt, a rancher in Kidder County and chairman of North Dakota Animal Stewards, which op-posed Measure 5, told Forum Communications.
Both sides spent heavily to sway voters on Measure 5, with campaign finance reports filed with the North Dakota secretary of state’s office totaling well more than $1 million by last week.
Much of the funding for the measure came from the Humane Society of the United States, which opponents sought to discredit as a radical organization.