While early polls indicated strong support for the proposal, more recent polls suggested that this support was waning, and by the early hours of this morning, with more than 95% of the votes cast and 47% in favor vs 53% against, it appeared clear that the measure was not going to pass.
At the heart of Prop 37 was a requirement for companies to disclose if foods sold in California were “genetically engineered” (for raw agricultural commodities) or “may have been entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering” (for processed foods and supplements).
While supporters claimed that consumers have a right to know what is in their food, opponents argued it was a 'deeply flawed' initiative that would prompt a tidal wave of frivolous lawsuits and raise grocery bills without providing any health or safety benefits.
Monsanto and other large companies such as PepsiCo, Kraft, General Mills and DuPont spent $45m on advertising and lobbying for the "no" campaign, compared with a reported $6-8m for the "yes" campaign, which was largely funded by organic and natural foods food companies.
Supporters: Prop 37 was defeated by a 'wildly deceptive smear campaign'
In a press release entitled 'Chemical and Agribusiness Interests Defeat California’s Proposition 37', supporters of the initiative pledged to continue their campaign despite the setback.
“Californians and all Americans deserve the right to know what’s in their food,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.
“Unfortunately, Proposition 37 was defeated by a wildly deceptive smear campaign financed by Monsanto, DuPont, and other industry opponents of the public’s right to know. In the end, opponents of Proposition 37 didn’t want Californians to be able to make informed decisions about whether to buy food that had been genetically engineered.”
Just Label It campaign director David Bancroft added that this was the beginning, not the end, of the campaign for GMO labeling: "Federal GE foods labeling must now be the focus."
No campaign: Food labeling policy should be based on logic and science, not fear
However, the 'No' campaign said the result showed that California voters had "seen through" Prop 37 as a flawed and unnecessary piece of legislation.
Henry I. Miller, M.D., a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and the founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology (1989-1993), said: “Food labeling policy should be based on logic and science, not fear.
"Leading scientific organizations have all agreed that foods containing genetically engineered ingredients are safe and are not materially different from their traditional counterparts. We’re glad the voters rejected this misleading, costly and unnecessary measure."
What happens next?
So what happens now?
Justin Prochnow, an attorney in the Denver office of law firm Greenberg Traurig, predicted that supporters of GMO labeling would not simply throw in the towel and give up.
He added: "I am sure the close margin will only encourage proponents to renew efforts next go-around, perhaps with some changes to the private right of action provisions which seem to be the real sticking point for many opponents.
"Lest you think that issue is tabled for now, I would still expect enterprising plaintiff lawyers to bring lawsuits for all-natural claims made with GMO ingredients."
Click here to read the official results.
Click here to find out more about the ‘vote no’ campaign.
Click here to find out more about the ‘vote yes’ campaign.
Click here to read the text of Proposition 37 (The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act).