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California's Prop 37, a primer

With the defeat of Prop 37 in last week’s election, a long campaign battle in California has drawn to a close—for now.

 According to Ballotpedia, the proposition’s outline is as follows:

“If Proposition 37 has been approved, it would have:

  • Required labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if the food is made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.
  • Prohibited labeling or advertising such food as “natural.”
  • Exempted from this requirement foods that are “certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages.” (Ballotpedia, Prop 37)

According to the same source, the proposition was voted down 53.1 percent against, to 46.9 percent in favor.

 In addition to official platforms for the “Yes on Prop 37” campaign and “No on Prop 37” campaign (with Facebook and Twitter accompaniments) this proposition sparked a nationwide dialogue about whether or not a label for genetically modified foods is a basic consumer right. Proponents of the bill ranged from health food giant Whole Foods to the Center for Food Safety to the Organic Consumers Association. Opponents included the California Grain and Feed Association as well as agri-business giants Syngenta and Monsanto ( According to a campaign donation tracking site, donations aimed to defeat the proposition were 46 million, 8.1 million of which was from Monsanto. Donations in favor of the bill totaled 9.2 million (MapLight Voter’s Guide, Voter’s Edge).

Editorials about the value of such a bill were the subject of national debate in weeks leading up to the election. A few weeks before Election Day, sustainable food activist, environmental leader, and writer Michael Pollan weighed in on the implications of bill with his New York Times article “Vote for the Dinner Party”. In it, Pollan assigned the proposition the weighty task of proving the food movement’s political legitimacy. Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now, told Time magazine that despite its defeat, “[p]rop 37 is a really important and historic opportunity for an emerging food movement. It will fundamentally change the conversation about food and agriculture here in the U.S.”

If we as young farmers are to make his statement true, it is crucial that we continue the conversation that prop 37 has begun. The issues that prop 37 sought to address are the same that influence all aspiring farmers. A national engagement with food issues; a consumer demand for transparency and concern for health; public inquiry into the science of genetically modified food—all of these are gains that we as young farmers must seek to hold onto in the wake of what seems, to some, like a bitter defeat. Hopefully, this proposition is but the harbinger of politics to come—politics that engage deeply with our farms, farmers, eaters, and food. Politics that will shape our livelihoods for generations to come.

So fight, vote, and eat on.
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