Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What Sank the GMO Labeling Initiative in WA State? What’s Next?

By Charles Mish

Last November, a slim majority of Washington voters were persuaded that they did not need to know about potentially harmful ingredients in their food.

How could an issue with a 66 percent approval rating last summer lose 51-49 by election day? 

Three reasons: wrong year, outside money,lapdog press, lukewarm message.

Wrong year: Statewide, only 46 percent of voters took time to mail their ballot. In this off-off year election with the lowest turnout in a decade, younger voters, traditionally more open to change, essentially skipped the election.

Actually, every age group except seniors favored labeling. But seniors were the ones who turned out, and they determined the fate of I-522, which lost by a margin of 38,046 votes. Had only 19,024 people voted yes instead of no, I-522 would have passed.

And had campaign instigators waited another year for Congressional elections as major donor David Bronner of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps suggested in preliminary meetings, the outcome likely would have been different.
Outside Money: Four out-of-state Big Chemical corporations and the Food Manufacturers Association donated a whopping $22 million, half of it illegal, to sway voters with a barrage of negative advertising.

Day after day, up to four times an hour, voters heard seemingly trustworthy, reliable speakers—farmers (including an organic farmer), a dietitian, an obstetrician, a former attorney general--claim the “poorly written” initiative was bad for farmers, would raise food costs, had too many exemptions. Most importantly, they said GM food is no different from ordinary food, so why bother labeling it?

Well-crafted, polished, convincing advertising, except none of it was true.
Lapdog Press: Abandoning its vital role as watchdog of the public interest, the Washington state press, like the California press a year earlier, wound up serving as lapdog for Big Chemical and Big Food. Except for the Bellingham Herald and The Stranger, editorial boards across the state, regurgitating the talking points of the No campaign, firmly rejected I-522.
Not surprising, considering so much of their financial life support comes from grocery ads.
More surprising was the role of PCTS Channel 9, the local affiliate of PBS, in swaying the election. KCTS’s decision to air “Next Meal,” an infomercial masquerading as a documentary, right before the election represents a clear violation of its charter to provide fair and balanced information to the public.
In this 26 min. program, fewer than two minutes were doled out to GMO skeptics. One interviewee, a California mother who described at length how her daughters were sickened by GM foods, was shocked to see that only 8 seconds of her hour-long interview made the final cut. Not one word of the health impacts on her children.
When PBS aired “Next  Meal”  in California last May, a storm of protest  followed with 45 letter writers denouncing what they saw as biased journalism. Some suggested PBS run one of the several anti-GMO documentaries so both sides of the story would be presented.
Although Next Meal was scheduled to run nationally after the Nov. 5 election, management at KCTS instead decided to turn a deaf ear on protests and air the program three more times right before the election.

Considering the station’s potential reach of 1.5 million households representing 75% of the registered voters here, and since seniors are known to be among the most loyal watchers of PBS documentaries, it's not unreasonable to assume that PBS played a decisive role in swaying this tight election.

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