Will the anti-GMO Movement’s Dream Soon Become a Distant Memory?

Campaigns are by definition a zero sum game. One side wins, the other loses.  Each side is convinced its position is right.  They promote their position and attack their opponents when necessary.

However, behind the bravado, those same people and organizations, deep down, wonder if they are right – or at least question whether they will win in the end.

I was struck by a recent quote by the executive director of Just Label It, the leading pro-GMO food labeling group, who says the food industry is losing its battle against GMO food labeling.  This is what he said, “After this explosion of anti-GMO labeling lobbying, they have so little to show for their efforts.”

What else would you expect him to say?  Admit that the anti-GMO food movement is teetering on the brink of collapse?  Never.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

It is simply ridiculous to allege that the pro-GMO side has little or nothing to show for its efforts:

  • Voters in California, one of the most liberal states in the Union, defeated a GMO labeling proposal in 2012.

  • Voters in Washington State, one of the most liberal states in the Union, defeated a GMO labeling proposal in 2013.

  • Over 50 GMO labeling bills have been introduced in 25 states.  All but a three have failed, and not one has been implemented due to legally required triggers or court challenges.

  • Virtually every newspaper across the country – even in California and Washington State – that has taken a position on GMO food or labeling says its safe and labeling is a fool’s errand.

  • The global scientific community has rallied around GMO food as safe and important to consumers and the future of our planet.  Even Democratic political leaders Hilary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and current Secretary of State, John Kerry, have endorsed GMO technology as safe and essential to our future.

So, while the pro-GMO side has a lot to show for its effort, the Just Label It group and its allies are confronting the real possibility that their campaign may be forced into mothballs by the end of the year.

Voters in Oregon and Colorado will vote on GMO labeling proposals when they go to the polls in November.  It is a good bet those two measures will fail.  What then?  The GMO labeling side is quickly running out of states with Initiative & Referendum laws that allow election-driven law making.  And the few remaining states are significantly less fertile ground for their message.

The anti-GMO folks are pinning their hopes on Vermont’s GMO labeling law, signed into law by the governor earlier this year. However, that law is the subject of a lawsuit by food and agriculture interests, who have a very good chance of getting the courts to strike down the law on first amendment and/or commerce grounds.

One way to tell which side is winning a campaign is to listen carefully to the rhetoric of both sides. The side that is losing unleashes its most misleading and shrill punch lines when it realizes the end is near.

2014 could very well be the year that puts an end to major combat operations in the GMO wars.  If so, the anti-GMO forces will continue to reach into their bag of tricks (grassroots boycotts, etc.) for months to come, but their dream of changing the world will have faded for now.

Sean McBride, Founder and Principal of DSM Strategic Communications, LLC, is former Executive Vice President of Communications & Membership Services of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and former Director of Communications of the American Beverage Association