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California Farmers Speak Out for Truth in Labeling


John Coelho, [email protected], 559-970-7632
Joaquin Contente, [email protected], 559-779-0526
Paul Towers, Pesticide Action Network, [email protected], 916-216-1082


October 24, 2012

California Farmers Speak Out for Truth in Labeling

Conventional and organic farmers form coalition to challenge a series of misleading advertisements and throw their support behind labeling of genetically engineered foods

Fresno, CA – Speaking at farmers markets today in honor of international Food Week, a new coalition of conventional and organic California farmers is challenging a series of misleading advertisements and throwing their support behind labeling of genetically engineered foods. At stake is Proposition 37, a measure on November’s ballot that would add additional labeling to foods containing genetically engineered ingredients, and similar to measures adopted by over 50 countries around the globe.

“For too long, opponents of Proposition 37 have been putting words in our mouths,” said John Coelho, a grape and pistachio grower with a few thousand acres outside Fresno who, alongside other Central Valley farmers, has spent a total of $6,500 to purchase two billboards so that area residents could learn more about the issue. “Farmers for Truth in Labeling have come together across the state to say, in our own voice, that we believe in transparency and that labeling genetically engineered food will only help us understand and deliver what consumers want.”

Ads produced and paid for by the “No on 37” campaign — including over $20 million from out-of-state pesticide corporations who stand to lose significant market share if the measure passes — have been airing regularly on television for the past three weeks. Those corporations claim that the measure will put the state’s farmers at a disadvantage. But Farmers for Truth in Labeling disagree.

“Over 90% of American consumers want to know if their food has GMOs in it. And they should have that right,” said Joaquin Contente, who runs a dairy and 500-acre farm near Hanford.  “The notion that labeling will hurt farmers is just ridiculous. Farmers are smart, hard-working people — we will figure out how to deliver what the market wants. Proposition 37 is straightforward and flexible, and it allows us as farmers to get clear signals from consumers.”

The farmers chose to share their message at farmers markets today as they have become town hall squares in many California cities and towns, and venues for frank conversations between farmers and consumers. But farmers don’t expect opposition to stop its attack on the labeling measure.

Monsanto and five other out-of-state corporations — BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont and Syngenta, collectively known as the “Big 6” — dominate the world’s seed and pesticide markets and actively oppose the GE labeling initiative. To date, opposition to Proposition 37 has raised more than $35 million, including $20 million from these six pesticide corporations, and millions more are expected.

“Pesticide corporations are trying to sell us a bill of goods,” said Marga den Hoed, with Common Kettle Farm, speaking at a farmers market in Sacramento this morning. “Genetically engineered crops make farming more expensive, and keep farmers tethered to the pesticide treadmill. We have to fight to keep the food system working for farmers and consumers.”

As recent studies and U.S. Department of Agriculture data suggest, genetically engineered crops — namely corn, cotton and soy — have driven up the use of pesticides over the past 15 years. In turn, this has led to the development of “superweeds” and greater weed resistance, spurring on increasing pesticide use and the use of more hazardous pesticides. 

Few crops grown in California are genetically engineered. Just a small percentage of the state’s corn and cotton are engineered to withstand repeated application of a pesticide, or to express pesticides directly from the plant. But state farmers — including those growing specialty crops likes strawberries, almonds and citrus — are still committed to labeling GE foods and engaging in open, honest conversations with consumers.

While there has been confusion in the press, a genetically engineered food is defined as a plant or meat product that has had its DNA artificially altered in a laboratory by genes from other plants, animals, viruses or bacteria. This type of genetic alteration is not found in nature, and contrasts with traditional plant breeding that has taken place for thousands of years — a key point in the transparent conversation these farmers are trying to have with consumers.

Today’s event in Fresno is just one of many taking place at farmer’s markets across the state, including in Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Ventura. To date, over 2,000 California farms have officially endorsed Proposition 37 and labeling GE food.


Farmers for Truth in Labeling believes in honest conversations with consumers about what’s in our food and how it’s grown.

Note: Additional farmers available for interviews across the state and country

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Pesticide Action Network is dedicated to advancing alternatives to pesticides worldwide. Follow @pesticideaction

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