The biotech industry may have bitten off more than it can chew by spending big to defeat yesterday’s California vote on mandatory GM labels at a time when initiatives in many other states are gearing up on similar votes in the near future.
Unlike Europeans US consumers have never had labels to help them see when the foods they buy come from GM crops. In California Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, Syngenta and other Big Biotech corporations joined forces with food giants Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Nestle and others to spend US$45 million, but still only narrowly defeated a proposition to require labels on foods with GM ingredients. 
Despite the millions spent by Big Business in a propaganda campaign to influence voters, the vote was split 47% in favour of mandatory GM labels and 53% against. Over 4.27 million voters in one of the world’s top ten economies want their families to know where GM is used in food.  The industry will find these figures hard to ignore, and this may account for the lack of triumphalism over yesterday’s “win”.
The “no” votes cost the food and biotech companies approximately US$9.30 each, and with similar GM labeling initiatives mounted in some 20 other states, the industry will have to open its wallet even wider to prevent labels being introduced. Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of “Yes” supporter the Center for Food Safety, said in a statement:
“It’s disappointing that the flood of corporate money trumped public interest in California. Millions of people supported labeling of GE foods in California, and that should send a powerful message to other states and the federal government that public demand for the right to know what’s in our food is not going away.” 
While in Europe animal feed and all foods containing GM ingredients are labeled (GMO Traceability and Labelling Regulation 1830/2003), attempts to introduce labels on products from animals fed GM feed were narrowly defeated in the European Parliament on several occasions, most recently in 2010.  This runs against the tide of massive public support for this right to know what’s in our food. 
Following consumer rejection of GM foods when there were introduced in the 1990s all major UK supermarkets operate a no GM policy in own brand foods, and some extend this to limited ranges of animals products.  In Germany and France some companies have responded to consumer concern by introducing a voluntary “not produced using GMOs” label on dairy and other animal products.  Such labels have proved popular, boosting sales for one company by 15% so far. 
Industry clearly fears GM labelling will drive shoppers away from its products – with good reason given the mounting scientific uncertainty around long-term safety and sustainability. Indeed an executive of a Monsanto subsidiary seed company famously said as long ago as 1994, before the first US crops were even grown commercially, “If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.” 
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