Pamm Larry, Proposition 37, and moving forward against GMOs

Pamm Larry rocks. Seriously. This woman got the ball rolling for the initiative that resulted in one of highest-profile bPamm_Larryallot measures in the country in the 2012 election cycle.

If you were unconscious during late 2012, Proposition 37 sought to mandate labels identifying those processed/packaged foods that contained genetically engineered ingredients. It didn’t pass, rather famously, but it took the population at large – and not just in California – from “What’s a GMO?” to awareness very, very quickly. (And it didn’t lose by much, when it comes down to it, considering the vast amounts of cash spent by the opposition.)

Of course, dozens and dozens of passionate, dedicated people up and down the state put in countless hours and tons of energy to get the initiative on the ballot, to educate the population at large why it was an issue, and all the rest. But Pamm Larry remains one of the most prominent figures in this movement, and her enthusiasm remains high.

So what a delight to have her show up at the UnUrban Café, an anchor of café life in Santa Monica, for a brief meeting to update the faithful as well as the interested! She kept the meeting to the promised hour, and managed to cover a wealth of information during that time. I’ll share highlights here:

  • Sure, Proposition 37 did not pass. But (as noted previously) it took the awareness of genetically engineered foods and crops from under the radar to widespread. 
  • Numerous other states have either gone through their ballot process (Connecticut, Maine), or are in the midst (Washington), or are in planning stages (Michigan, Colorado), with more likely to enter the pipeline.
  • She expressed concern over federal control of labeling laws, as has been proposed (personal note: look how downhill organic labeling went once the USDA got hold of it). However, she did urge people to call our representatives to urge them to co-sponsor the DeFazio bill. California senators are on board, but not all other senators are. As soon as a few states pass their own laws, there is a high likelihood that the federal government will step in with labeling legislation – and that its mandate will be more in line with that of the states.
  • Connecticut got people from all over the country calling the governor’s office, to the point where he did sign their measure into law even though originally he was not going to. This emphasizes the fact that the more we push our representatives, the more they will listen to us.
  • Now that we’re not actively trying to get a law passed here in California – or in other states not pushing one – it’s a good time to educate people about the issues associated with GMOs. For instance, churches, schools, PTAs, and the like. Groups who may not want to be involved with an active political issue may be willing to listen to the topic when it’s purely educational and informative.
  • While Europe currently has effectively banned genetically engineered crops, there is currently a strong push by the EU, in collaboration with corporate interests, to only allow the sale of “registered” seeds.
  • A couple of smartphone apps were mentioned: Fooducate and Buycott, which will let the user know about the presence of GMOs in food (Fooducate) as well as ownership of products by companies actively against labeling GMOs (Buycott).
  • Larry mentioned the Natural Product Expo as an example of the greater awareness of and interest in this issue; last year, she said it was probably the hardest place to gather signatures to get Prop. 37 on the ballot – nobody cared. This year, the Expo had dozens of signs and banners about labeling GMOs everywhere! And major supermarkets have stated flatly that they will not carry genetically engineered salmon – markets like Ralph’s, a company that put money into the opposition to Prop. 37.

One of Larry’s main points is that activism is hard work that may not always be easy or fun – but it can be wonderful if you build a community of dedicated people around the issue. Having a focused team, so that the burden is not borne by just one or two people, is essential to keep enthusiasm high and avoid burnout.

My own perception, reinforced by this meeting, is that a sea change has taken place since last year. So few people seemed to know or care about genetically engineered foods and crops, let alone whether they were important. This year, I’m seeing products at natural foods stores voluntarily adding banners to their labels stating “No GMOs.” And even the least aware of my friends know about the issue of GMOs and don’t understand why they are even sold, let alone why they are not identified as such.

Between hearing Pamm Larry tonight, and running into Jeffrey Smith last week – who feels that we’re at a tipping point in the fight against GMOs – I am allowing myself to feel hope!

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