Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lessons Learned: Jeri Weinhold

My observations on the GMO Labeling Initiative

Things to be considered for future campaigns.

The NO campaign did many things right:

  1. They started the paid website advertising first and under many different search words and removed those that didn’t get hits early in the game—spending a little more in the beginning, but reducing costs as they went on.  Our paid ads were a quick let’s get things up with a request to contribute rather than any facts.

  1. They sent out multiple post card mailings.  They may not have had to send out as many, but getting them out early on was a good strategic plan and having one arrive on the same day as the voter pamphlets was an excellent idea.

  1. They stated their information on their TV ads as facts.  Albeit, it was misinformation, but the audience didn’t know it.  Our response to those ads was simply they are giving you misinformation and go to our website to see the truth.  Our ads needed to state facts.  Our “We have a right to know” stance did not win over those who listened to vote No misinformation: it only impacted people who felt like their choice was somehow compromised.  The fear and confusion the NO ads generated turned undecided voters who did not know the whole story or saw choice as less important to them into NO votes. (Many believe that if the FDA or USDA have blessed GMO’s, they can’t be bad!)

  1. They had people on their ads who lent credibility to the NO position, including an organic female farmer with a PHD.  Finding out why these people did not agree with our YES position would help future initiatives understand and create a better model.

  1. Their main spokeswoman was articulate and confident in her position.  Having a professional public speaker who can distance themselves from emotions and appear factual is a plus. Objectively review the I522 debate.  From the perspective of an uninformed viewer, who appeared to be the most convincing speaker?  Although our speakers were passionate and articulate, they didn’t command the space in the same way.  It is not a criticism, but simply an observation.  Sometimes when you are too close to a situation, the arguments are tinged with the emotions you feel and may appear radical rather than fact.


  1. I know it was decided to stick to the simple “we have a right to know” slogan, but most people do not know why. The fear of the impact of eating GMO foods and the threat to our environment needs to be communicated. The fear is real and it is not running a negative campaign.                                      

A.    Have a veterinarian talk about the damage to the animals that directly eat the GMO grains.  Have them also talk about the still births and problems they have seen with fertility.  
B.     Have someone talk about the difference in using BT organically and the way it is being used by the chemical companies.
C.     Address the fact that there has never been any long term testing to humans by GMO seed companies so any health issues may take centuries to expose just like tobacco and asbestos.
D.    Talk about the need for labeling because there are no potential issues that can ever be proven because we do not know what we are eating in our food.
E.     Have someone from the organic seed companies talk about who owns the seeds, how cross-pollination is impacting organic seed and the diversity of local seed and how soon we can not go back to normal seed becoming dependent on the drug and chemical companies.

 7.  Talk to the small businesses.  I know of one grocery that had their supplier tell them they wouldn’t    deliver to them if I522 passed.  Have some meetings or go to the small groceries ahead of time to talk about the empty threat of suppliers.  Talk to the small businesses that create a food product.  Let them know ahead of time what impact the initiative will or won’t have on them.
       8.  Ask farmers which portion of the initiative created a problem for them and try to address the problem before it is submitted as an initiative for signatures. This may get more small farmers on our YES side. Read the Capital Press (or whatever agricultural newspaper in the area) to gain insights into what the farmers are being told to know how to approach the farmers.   The organic label is a paperwork nightmare and small farmers, I believe, saw their time being spent on perceived paperwork required for labeling which made a YES vote a bad choice for them.

9.      Get people from different political backgrounds to do an ad together showing that this is not just a     liberal issue.  Have people contact their respective political parties and talk to neighbors to let them know their position so we gain more political allies.  Many people saw this initiative as liberal activism.

    10.   Review all the newspaper articles that favored a No vote to find out the improvements that need to be   made to the initiative or to better inform the papers to the history of why we need to label.

    11.   Talk to everyone on the same side.  Informal groups were formed due to lack of communication.  We could have been much more powerful if we weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel.  Simple things like how to get yard signs, posters, car stickers and what should be the cost.  Different answers, different people—be more organized, define areas, communicate and mobilize the volunteers to carry out the agenda!!

12.    When the Washington State November 5th Ballot voter handbook came out, they valued state costs over the next six years for the I522 initiative to be 3.3 million dollars.  Those who were undecided based on the “fight for right to know” then became swayed by the implementation cost to the state.

13.    Do we have any study of the real costs for labeling?  What it costs companies to put Natural on their label or gluten free?  Anything to combat the concept that labeling will cost the consumer.  What is the cost to use sugar vs corn syrup—many companies have voluntarily done that. What is the cost for a NON-GMO label to the manufacturer and do they pass that cost on to the public?  Use these facts as well as convincing the audience there is nothing to fear.  Help them to realize what the consumer wants the consumer gets!

14.    Is there any way to separate out chemically treated or cross species GMO’s from perceived healthy GMO’s for the sake of the labeling issues?  It was never mentioned that long term test of the chemical GMO’s should be required to bypass the need for labeling.

  15.     Is there any way to know whether the chemical companies rank and file eat GMO foods?

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