Californians support a ballot initiative to label groceries containing genetically engineered ingredients by more than a 2-to-1 margin, according to a Los Angeles Times poll released on Wednesday.
The ballot initiative, known as Proposition 37, is supported by 61 percent of registered voters and opposed by 25 percent of voters. An additional 14 percent were undecided or refused to answer.
If Proposition 37 succeeds in November, California will become the first state to require manufacturers and retailers to label genetically engineered produce and food containing genetically engineered crops, which are also known as "genetically modified organisms" or GMOs. About 50 countries require some kind of label on genetically engineered food.
Proposition 37 enjoys bipartisan support, with 66 percent of Democrats favoring the initiative while 19 percent are opposed, and 49 percent of Republicans supporting it while 35 percent are opposed.
Biotech agriculture critics hope the initiative could set the stage for similar efforts in other states and even in the national Congress, where a powerful agribusiness lobby and America's overall reliance on GMO farming have kept labeling proposals off the table.
Monsanto's TV Ads
The LA Times poll was conducted before the campaign against Proposition 37 launched an onslaught of TV ads aimed at turning Californians against the proposal.
The No on 37 campaign has considerably outraised the proponents with a total of $32.5 million in donations from processed-food manufacturers and agrichemical companies. Monsanto alone has donated $7.1 million.
The Yes on 37 campaign has raised about $3.9 million from organics companies and alternative health groups.
One anti-Proposition 37 ad features Central Valley farmer Ted Sheely, who claims the proposal would put farmers at a disadvantage and "the people least able to pay are going to be forced to pay more."
"The opponents will have the debate about economics - that this proposition could raise the cost of groceries and make food more expensive," said poll director Dan Schnur, who serves as Unruh Institute of Politics at University of Southern California Dornsife.
Even after being told that Proposition 37 could cost the state $100,000 to $1 million, 56 percent of voters polled still supported the initiative while 32 percent opposed, the pollsters reported.
Scary Food and Tumors in Rats
"Something called 'genetically modified food' sounds really scary to people, so it's not surprising that support for the initiative is so strong," said Schnur.
Proposition 37 supporters are touting a recently released French study that linked a Monsanto corn variety, along with the popular Roundup herbicide the corn is genetically engineered to tolerate, to tumors and organ failure in lab rats.
Western observers have been critical of the study, but both the French and Russian governments have asked their consumer watchdogs to investigate the findings further. Earlier this week, Russian authorities placed a temporary ban on the Monsanto corn variety. French agriculture ministers have threatened to ban the Monsanto corn if investigators find it could potentially harm human health.