Failed campaign to label GMOs regroups with EcoFarm Conference springboard.

Gene Pool: A citizen-led ballot initiative to label GMOs failed by 354,000 votes, but organizers are back at work. “Even though we did not prevail at the ballot box, we are rising like a phoenix, stronger than before,” the Prop. 37 website states.

On Election Day, Californians rejected a rule that would’ve required labeling genetically modified food. Now pro-labeling activists are at work on plan B. Locally, that likely means an effort to get a county resolution supporting disclosure of GMOs. 

“On the plate is going to be GMO-free Monterey County,” local Proposition 37 organizer Colleen Ingram says. 

Ingram meets this week with Pamm Larry, the retired midwife and Chico-based organic herb farmer who launched the labeling campaign. Larry is coming to Pacific Grove to deliver an update at the annual EcoFarm conference, hosted by the Soquel-based Ecological Farming Association. 

EcoFarm board member Thomas Wittman views the Prop. 37 campaign—and its failure—as a success. “If California had won the initiative, it would’ve been mired in the courts for years,” he says. “That would’ve been worse than losing.”

Wittman sees a rise in awareness of GMOs as a successful outcome, and hopes the momentum Prop. 37 generated catches on in Washington, D.C., where activists are pushing for tighter regulatory controls by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Vermont lawmakers are considering a labeling bill, and Washington state voters are collecting signatures for a ballot initiative similar to California’s. 

“Opponents to Prop. 37 made it sound like farmers were against it, but most farmers were for it,” Wittman says. “I think the Monterey County Farm Bureau was really persuaded by the powerful corporate entities that were against it.”

But Monterey County Farm Bureau board member Bob Martin says that’s not the case. “All the farmers who are going to attend the EcoFarm conference probably are, that’s about it,” he says with a laugh. 

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The Farm Bureau took a position against Prop. 37, echoing a $41 million campaign led by a political committee called the Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme. 

“People have a right to know what’s in their food, but it’s wrong to put a fear into them that isn’t warranted,” Martin says. He’s skeptical of organic and non-GMO farmers’ motives: “They’re promoting their own product, their own agenda.”

There are no commercialized GMO versions of popular Salinas Valley crops, largely thanks to consumer pressure, industry experts say. Wittman says more transparency, as required by labeling, can only help the growers who are voluntarily keeping GM crops out of their fields today: “That’s a huge liability for an organic or non-GMO grower.” 

EcoFarm happens at Asilomar Conference Grounds from Jan. 24-26. For a full conference agenda, visit

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