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How to Bring Down Monsanto: The California GMO Labeling Ballot Initiative

If you are reading this there's probably a good chance you want genetically engineered foods labeled and you know all the reasons why.  

We, in the U.S., look to the EU and other countries as examples of what "could be."  GMO labeling has been the norm there for years now.   Just about every GMO speaker or book speaks to the importance of labeling.

When questions are not misleading, every poll shows the vast majority in the US want GMOs labeled.  So why don't we have labeling here in the United States?  The short answer is that the FDA made policy in 1992 that stands today.  Even though there is clear evidence acquired through the Freedom Of Information Act that their scientists knew about possible health problems when they officially established this position, in a letter dated April 12, 2011, they still state that they are not aware of any data that shows genetically engineered food to be any different than non-GMO food and that there is no data that suggests genetically engineered foods are not safe.  They don't consider long term effect or the unknown important.  End of story.

Or is it?   

Right now there is legislation of one sort or another in 14 states to label GMO foods. One of those efforts is in my state of California.  AB 88 would require mandatory labeling of GE fish if it's approved by the FDA.  We were all very excited when it made it out of committee last week. However, when I look at it with clear eyes, I see that it only made it out of committee by one vote. And that was after the chair allowed it to be voted on again because it lost the previous week.  It now goes to the appropriations committee, which we fear might be a difficult battle. Then it has to go to the floor of the assembly, then the senate, then get signed off by the governor.  Our California State Grange tried to get a labeling bill two years ago. No one would touch it.  

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has had labeling legislation on the hill for 5 years. It has gone nowhere.  Alaskan legislators united to propose a national bill to ban GE salmon.   Where do these bills stand now?  Where are the bills in the other states?  Do we really think they can go very far when there are so many hurdles and random decisions that are removed from us?  Legislators vote with all sorts of considerations in mind, not just what his/her constituency wants.  

Change through government takes decades.  With 28 foods in front of the USDA/FDA to be considered for deregulation I don't believe we have decades to wait.  

The EU has labeling, not because the government simply decided that it was a good idea after decades of waffling and bills getting lost in committee.   They got quick, decisive change because large numbers of people united behind their stated goals, and, with one voice, DEMANDED labeling.   

The US has 24 states that have the initiative process as part of their governance.  This is a process by which the people can organize and get to ballot any law they want enacted.  Since March, California has been organizing to get an initiative written and on the ballot for 2012.  Michigan and Washington state are starting campaigns.    The process is simple but made complicated by the enormity of the project.  We have to organize a whole state to get the law to the ballot. That's about 800,000 signatures in CA to make sure we get enough to qualify.  Then we have to have a very sophisticated campaign to make sure we win the vote.   

Oregon tried a labeling initiative in 2002. They were pummeled at the ballot because of a deceptive media campaign. We cannot allow that to happen again.  It won't if we unite as a movement and get support from the whole country.  We can expect biotech to feel threatened by this and put all their resources into fighting it.   They know that what we do in CA, MI and WA will impact the whole country:  this is a national issue being  fought at a state level.   We need the nation's support.

Our effort to get GMOs labeled is two campaigns- 1) get the law to the ballot, then 2) get the majority to vote YES on the ballot.  The campaigns are different, but both require organizing, bodies and money.   

What can you do?  

-In this first phase in California, we need key people in each county who want to be part of the organizing team.  We're looking for individuals and groups from all walks of life who want to become food activists to make this a broad based campaign.  We need community educators  to help spread the word about GMO issues so folks can make informed decisions for their table today,  then their vote in 2012.  Signature gathering starts this fall but we cannot wait to get organized.  We need to be fully operational before we hand in the wording of the initiative so we can get that required number of signatures in the 150 days the state allows us.   What are you willing to do to get GMOs labeled?  Are you willing to give it some of your time for 20 weeks?  We just started a Signature Gathering Pledge Program.     We've had great response in just one week of minimal outreach.  We need thousands more pledges to make sure we can get this done.

- Spread the word!   The more people who know about this effort, the more we can find those who want to work with us to get this done.   Talk to your organizations and ask them to come on board. We are very excited that in a very short time, both our California State Grange and the Organic Consumers Association have come out in support of this effort.  We need more groups and organizations to join us:  religious, farmers, consumers, civil rights, parenting, sustainability, vegans, political, environmentalists, animal rights, health -  ANY organization comprised of people who eat are invited to collaborate and partner with us.  It's all about that unified stand across a broad spectrum of voters.

- The campaign needs monetary support from the whole country.   Initiatives are expensive.  Even with a lot of volunteers to decrease professional signature gathering costs, I've been told that it still takes $1-1.5M to get an initiative to the ballot to ensure we get the numbers needed.   Once the law is on the ballot,  it will take LOTS more funding in the second phase for a very slick political and media campaign combined with personal community outreach.

Sound like a lot? It is.  But let us not forget that Obama raised $ 656,357,572 through unity in the electorate that responded to his message. That's obviously more money than we are looking at, but it reminds us that when a campaign has a message that speaks to a broad group of people, it can raise more money than one might expect; and ours is just such a message. If there is a (or more) professional fund raiser  who is committed to this issue, please contact us.

- If you live in a state that has initiatives, you still have time to organize and make our collective voice even louder.  Contact us so we can support each other and not have to re-invent the whole campaign wheel every time.  If you have expertise in campaigns or anything else you can imagine would be useful, please join us so we have the best campaign possible to ensure victory in every state.  

- Point people to our website  so they can get involved. 
- Visit, "like," and spread the word about our Facebook page.  - Donate    money in large and small amounts whatever you can afford, then stretch it a bit because we finally have something we can do for ourselves without being dependent on someone else's grace to follow our will. As many times as the People have been ignored on this issue, we're really lucky to have this democratic process. We need to make use of it.  

We are taking a strong stand for labeling.  We are ready to join the rest of the people in the world who have been actively protesting  GMOs and demand what we want.  An initiative movement does not  replace what others have been doing, nor does it mean we don't continue with other efforts:  voting with our dollars; getting signatures for the Organic Consumers' Association's "Truth in Labeling" campaign;  educating people like the Institute for Responsible Technology's "tipping point" campaign to help open the eyes of consumers to their supreme power over what companies do;  putting pressure on store and food producers to get  Non-GMO Project certification for every state; actively putting pressure on legislators as individuals and by responding to petitions brought to us by groups like the Food and Water Watch and Credo ; supporting the Center for Food Safety fighting for us in court, etc. These efforts are, in fact, the very reasons we have enough support to run a successful campaign today, so we have to keep up the pressure and continue supporting the groups behind it. Every angle, every campaign moves us forward.  Take a moment to get on the mailing lists of your heroes and you'll be happy you did.

United,  we really can get foods labeled here in the US.  We need to get this GMO situation under control and it starts with knowing what we're eating.  If you're tired too of watching history unfold however it does, we hope you'll join us in making it instead. It's about to get really interesting.