Zack Kaldveer, Prop 37 Right to Know Campaign
- Wednesday, 31 October 2012
If Proposition 37 is approved on November 6, Californians can finally make informed choices about whether or not they will eat foods containing genetically modified organisms, and processed foods containing GMOs can no longer be labeled 'natural.' Naturally Savvy interviewed Zack Kaldveer, Assistant Media Director at Yes on Prop 37 Right to Know Campaign for an update.
NS: How did this particular movement to label GMOs get started?
ZK: We’re a week away from what potentially could be the first major defeat ever suffered by agrichemical giants bankrolling the No on 37 campaign. How we got to this historic moment is an inspiring story. It started with a grandmother and small farmer named Pamm Larry who saw firsthand how GMO farming methods were harmful to the environment and posed a potential risk to human health, yet there were no safety standards of these foods or a label alerting consumers to their presence. She felt we had the right to know what’s in our food. She decided to take action and take labeling to the people so that we can decide for ourselves. Within 10 weeks she, along with a volunteer army aided by numerous non-profit advocacy organizations, gathered 1 million signatures - easily qualifying Prop 37 for the ballot.
For nearly a month the opposition, bankrolled by pesticide and junk food corporations, have been spending one million dollar a day on discredited TV ads designed to confuse voters. Numerous major daily newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee, and the San Jose Mercury News, have called these ads misleading. Nonetheless our lead has shrunk from 40 points to just 2 points.
The No on 37 campaign is claiming that labeling GMOs will raise a family's grocery costs by $400 per year. That’s not true. Europe passed their initial labeling laws in 1997 and prices have not gone up. Sixty-one countries around the world label GMOs, without an accompanying rise in grocery costs. The U.S. and Canada are the only industrialized countries in the world that don’t label GMO foods. Even Iran and Syria label GMOs. Furthermore, we don’t require any health safety testing in the U.S. So we are being hit double: We don’t have a label giving us a choice and we don’t know if the foods are a danger to our health. But we do know that GM crops have resulted in 500 million pounds of additional pesticide use since first being introduced. But there's a reason the pesticide and junk food industries are willing to spend whatever it takes to defeat Prop 37. In the US, 70 percent of grocery store food has GMOs, in contrast to 7 percent of the foods sold in Europe. And that's why these companies are spending so much money to defeat Prop 37: people might not want to keep buying their products if they know what's in them.
We know that nature adapts. Superweeds are becoming resistant to Monsanto's herbicides, invading more and more cropland in the U.S.. Some of these superweeds are becoming so large and hard, they’re breaking farm machinery. And now GMO crops are contaminating the crops of farmers trying to grow natural or organic food.
When the government refuses to require any health and safety studies, by definition we, the people, are the test subjects of a giant experiment. What Prop 37 posits is we deserve the right to know so we can make our own choice as whether to participate in this experiment or simply opt-out. We should also have the choice whether we want to spend our hard earned money on GMOs and the companies that create them.
NS: For the GMO issue to make it onto the November 6 ballot, it's obviously a significant issue. How did you make that happen (considering resistance from government and big business)?
ZK: We have a people’s army. Two thousand to 3,000 passionate volunteers across the state are working for us, passing out flyers, marching, organizing events and protesting to protect the future of our food supply. A few weeks ago there were Walmart protests in Sacramento and Oakland. Walmart was the first major retailer to sell Monsanto’s Bt corn (which has been shown to destroy the stomach lining of insects, and no long term studies have been done on humans). This is in direct opposition to 500,000 Walmart customers who pleaded with them not to sell Bt corn. Whole Food and Trader Joe’s declined to sell this corn. General Mills refused to use Bt corn in their products. But Walmart said, “Sure, we’ll sell it.”
People are demanding labeling, but when we get close, Monsanto and Dupont block the efforts. These are the same companies that brought us Agent Orange and DDT and told us that those were safe for years.
Highlighting the David vs. Goliath nature of this contest is the fact that not a single human being has given money to No on 37. Only corporations. We have 122,000 followers on Facebook and 70,000 on Twitter, and we average about $100 a donation through our website. So there is a true ‘corporations versus people’ dynamic to this campaign.
NS: If Prop 37 is approved, is labeling of GMOs a sure thing? Is there a possibility that it will be revoked? If so, how can consumers make sure that doesn't happen?
ZK: This is a better question for our attorney. I don’t doubt these corporations will try to overturn it. If Prop 37 is not approved, this movement won’t be stopped – awareness is growing and the problems associated with this genetic manipulation of our food supply will only increase. Vermont was very close to labeling GMOs, but Monsanto came in with claims about warrants and patents and squashed the whole thing. That's why in California we took it to ballot, giving people the right to decide, rather than politicians.
NS: Once approved, how soon will we see GMOs labeled on foods?
ZK: Companies will have 18 months to add one line of ink to their label on the front or back of their packaging. Companies re-label their products every 6 to 12 months; they will have plenty of time to update their labels. If passed, 18 months after November 6 we can start making more informed choices at the grocery store.
And this is what companies are so afraid of - transparency. With it comes accountability. They are afraid of people connecting the dots between health and the food they are eating, and choosing an alternative.
NS: If Prop 37 is not approved, what can be done to continue the awareness and momentum started by the Campaign?
ZK: That’s a good question. It is hard to think that far ahead. As more and more research shows the connection between these foods and personal health and the environment, people will increasingly understand that this entire system is unsustainable and dangerous, whether we lose this campaign or not.
NS: November 6 is days away. What can our readers do to promote the Campaign?
ZK: The only thing that has beaten organized money is organized people. Little bits of money will help, too - even $5.00. We need more volunteers; and the best thing people can do is to tell everybody they know, “I hope you’re keeping track of Prop 37. Don’t believe the pesticide industries lies. Vote for your right to know what’s in your food.”
And consider this: When is the last time Monsanto or Dupont invested $36 million to protect our health, improve our environment, and save us money? Who do you trust with your health? Monsanto? Or Consumers Union? Who’s side are you on: The pesticide industry or the Pesticide Action Network.
NS: What do you say to people who say that the language of the law leaves people open to class action lawsuits?
ZK: The lawsuit argument is a red herring. Prop 37 is written totally different than Prop 65 - an initiative our opponents often falsely compare it to. Firstly, there are no bounty hunter fees (so lawyers don’t get any incentives to file lawsuits). Secondly, the simplicity of Prop 37 is what makes the whole lawsuit argument fall apart. Opponents seem to be saying that we shouldn't vote for Prop 37 because some companies will break the law! Why would they open themselves up to lawsuits rather just putting the label on?
Prop 37 says that companies can no longer call themselves natural if they contain GMO foods. Grocery stores would have to only label raw foods (not the products, though). The store owner has 30 days to add the label before anyone can sue. So grocery store owners have nothing to fear.
For organic and natural farmers it's the same. Their crops are getting contaminated with GMOs. Prop 37 takes that into account because it's about intent. We know that farmers did not mean to have their crops contaminated. They would simply need to show they did not knowingly use GMOs, which can be achieved by a simple statement from their supplier. Lawsuits would only target companies that intentionally deceive consumers. Prop 37 is simply about providing people a choice.
Prop 37 was written by a coalition of health experts, scientists, etc. and all these kinds of concerns were meticulously taken into account. Our opponents are trying to confuse and frighten voters into believing a simple label is something dangerous or radical.
Naturally Savvy supports Prop 37. We encourage you to vote "Yes!" on November 6.
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