There’s something fishy going on in the Golden State, and we aren’t talking about the GMO genes being spliced into the tomatoes. On Tuesday, California voters ultimately failed to pass Proposition 37, a bill that would mandate labeling for GMO foods – the vote was close, with 47% in favor and 53% against. However back in October, the U.S Department of Justice received an official complaint from an attorney with the CA 37 Right to Know campaign stating that the opposition had made a number of outrageous and possibly illegal statements in their efforts to defeat the law. The advertisement featured the FDA logo below the quote, “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says a labeling policy like Prop 37 would be ‘inherently misleading’.” The FDA never made such a statement, and faking their endorsement could get the creators of the ad into serious hot water.
The debate over whether or not to label GMO foods found its way onto the California ballot this fall with Proposition 37, which was backed by groups such as the Organic Consumers Union, Food Democracy Now, the Sierra Club, UFW, The Center for Food Safety, and the California Nurses Association. Those who opposed the “Right to Know” campaign were primarily big biotech companies, multinational food processors, and agribusinesses. The roster reads like a who’s-who of industry titans with Monsanto leading the pack. The company contributed over $8 million against the proposition, with DuPont, Pepsi, and Syngenta not far behind. However, throwing money behind a proposition is not against the law. The legal issues arise from lying during TV ads by using the logo of the FDA to mislead consumers.
Heavyweight institutions including the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics all claim they were misrepresented by the campaign in the Official Voter Guide. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics even sent their own press release trying to clarify the falsehoods and come out in support of labeling ingredients for consumers. There has also been evidence of front groups for the opposition posing as Democratic voting organizations mailing information to California residents.
After contacting the Department of Justice, lawyers from the Yes camp said that they were introduced to a Sacramento-based FBI agent named Jason Jones who would be handling an initial inquiry into their allegations. On Friday, the assertions were dismissed by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of California. Spokeswoman Lauren Horwood said, “Neither the FBI nor this office has a pending investigation related to this matter,” and that the grievances would be referred to the FDA.
The statement from the US Attorney’s office is somewhat out of the ordinary in that federal agencies rarely confirm or deny on record their involvement in an investigation. For their part, the No on 37 supporters say that calls for an investigation were stretching the truth. One thing is for certain – with a fight this heated, blows will still be felt long after the polls closed.