GMO Labeling Was A No Go. But Maybe Not For Long.

Even in very blue Washington state, I didn’t really hear much about California’s Prop 37 this year, an initiative to label food products as containing Genetically Modified Organisms. There was a little bit of attention paid in the advertising industry because Alex Bogusky threw some money at the cause.

But Prop 37 was defeated, largely due to a big spending push from large food and beverage manufacturers. So where does the debate go from here? On their blog, Portland ad agency Grady Britton has some thoughts:

Because Prop. 37 failed, food companies that identify themselves as natural and healthy lost the opportunity to boost sales – and their claims of differentiation – simply by owning the GMO-free label. Had big, mainstream companies been forced to disclose the use of GMO ingredients in their products, natural food companies would have had their own brands positioned for them as a wholesome alternative to competing, “unhealthy” brands – without spending a dime.

If a product contains GMO-free ingredients, there’s nothing preventing the maker of that product from trumpeting that benefit every chance they get. But clearly, labeling would have forced the issue. I do think it’s a bit disturbing that large food and beverage makers fight against consumers having more information when they shop. The implication is that they’re admitting that food containing GMO ingredients is less desirable in a consumer’s eyes than GMO-free food.

We saw a similar case with dairy products and Bovine Growth Hormone. Dairy products made from cows that were not treated with BGH are labeled as such, but in a compromise, there’s an extensive caveat on each label. Like this one:

I suspect the big boys are fighting a losing battle. Legislation may delay it, and not all consumers will care, but we’ll eventually know more about all the food we eat. The arc of marketing bends toward more transparency. Even as it’s fought every step of the way.



About Dan Goldgeier

Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. Dan is also a columnist for and the author of View From The Cheap Seats and Killer Executions and Scrubbed Decks.