It’s amazing what can happen in a year. Just ten months ago, we watched as the ballot initiative to label genetically engineered (GE) food in California — Prop 37 — was defeated by massive spending from the "Big 6" pesticide and GE corporations. And now there is more momentum than ever for GE labeling across the country.
With bills already passed in Maine and Connecticut, a big fight gearing up in Washington State, and stores implementing their own GE labeling policies, it seems Monsanto and other opponents of labeling won't be able to hold back the tide for much longer.
Next up: Washington
Grassroots movements have popped up all over the country, resulting in GE labeling bills being introduced in over half of states and passing in Connecticut and Maine. And right now, all eyes are on Washington State, which seems primed to become the first state of its size and influence to require GE labeling.
The bills passed in the Northeastern states contain a clause that delays implementation of labeling until more states in that region also pass similar bills. For this reason, if Washington passes its GE labeling ballot initiative this fall — Initiative 522 — it could well be the first state to implement labels on genetically engineered food (also referred to as GMOs, or genetically modified organisms).
The labeling effort looks hopeful in Washington — with an impressive coalition of groups gaining momentum towards a victory — and a victory there could be a major turning point for labeling across the U.S. That said, the Big 6 fundraising team has assembled, with Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer and Dow already donating large sums to defeat I-522. And as we know from the Prop 37 campaign last year, there will likely be a cash infusion from these corporate opponents as the election draws nearer.
As policy efforts are gaining momentum, major food companies — including Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Chipotle — are deciding to proactively label or eliminate GMOs in the food that they sell. According to the Globe and Mail growth investor Chris Umiastowski, these seemingly inevitable shifts in the food industry toward GE labeling make Monsanto a riskier long-term bet for investors:
It seems to me the risk in Monsanto’s business is higher than ever. Their reliance on selling genetically modified seeds is quite high, especially with over half of sales happening in the U.S. market.
The U.S. will likely soon be joining over 60 countries around the world that already require GE labeling. Only time will tell whether the widespread labeling of GMOs will lead toward a global shift in consumer purchasing and, in turn, food production. But I already feel proud of a labeling movement that has gained enough momentum to have financial investors questioning the viability of the Big 6's current business model — and potentially move the market away from GE crops that drive up the use of hazardous pesticides.
Today, people across the U.S are asking for transparency; we have the right to know what's in our food and how it is produced. If Umiastowski is correct, tomorrow we'll be building a better food system altogether by demanding safe and equitable food in the place of GE crops and pesticides.