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No on Proposition 37

No on Proposition 37


A November 2012 a ballot measure in California would have required that foods containing genetically modified ingredients be labeled. The measure applied only to products sold in California. While the measure started out with strong public support, it failed on Election Day. BCF assisted with the overall strategy and message development for the campaign, and headed up an aggressive coalition building and grassroots effort, and managed all the earned media and social media for the campaign. Nearly 1,000 organizations, scientists, doctors and other individuals joined the No on Prop. 37 coalition and served as visible campaign spokespersons in paid, mainstream and social media efforts. In addition, BCF secured a full sweep of the major editorial boards in the state (47) urging a “no” vote, and oversaw a robust online and social media campaign. Lastly, BCF helped direct aggressive grassroots outreach and online GOTV activities involving the biotech, agriculture and food company members of our coalition.

Situation Analysis

Proponents had a strong, very simple and reasonable-sounding message: The “right to know” what’s in our food. In truth, however, the backers of the measure and the biggest funders had a different agenda: to remove genetic engineering from food production altogether by forcing scary-sounding labels on food, and to establish a new system for lawyers to file shakedown lawsuits against food companies and grocers. The challenge was to get third parties, the media and California voters to look beyond the simplicity of the “right to know”, “simple label” frame and focus on the measure’s flaws and negative consequences. Working with other lead campaign consultants, BCF helped establish a credible campaign frame focused on the broad exemptions in the measure, the anti-science agenda of proponents, the higher food costs and taxpayer costs, and the shakedown lawsuits that would result. BCF’s job was to spread this message broadly through various earned media and grassroots channels.

Coalition Building

BCF educated and coordinated a broad-based and engaged coalition of nearly 1,000 groups and individuals including nearly 200 groups in California representing agriculture, food producers, ethnic groups, business groups, taxpayer groups, retailers, grocers, and health groups. In addition, BCF enlisted hundreds of doctors and scientists from around the country, including eight Nobel Laureates to oppose the ballot measure. BCF coordinated with these groups to engage in earned media activities and Get Out The Vote efforts as Election Day neared. In all, the GOTV efforts reached hundreds of thousands of California voters through online mobilization and traditional grassroots methods.

Earned Media

Over the course of the campaign, Yes on 37 held protests, news conferences and boycotts, and leveled various ridiculous charges against the opposition campaign and individuals involved in the campaign. Thus it was important for BCF, the No on 37 coalition, and everyone involved in the campaign to be aggressive, yet disciplined and remain straightforward and factual. BCF worked tirelessly to ensure reporters working on stories about Prop. 37 were connected with people who would be directly impacted by the measure and who could articulate their concerns well: retailers, farmers, and grocery store owners. BCF also placed special emphasis on making sure the media connected with scientists and scientists who studied GE technology and could speak knowledgeably on the subject. BCF placed particular emphasis on educating mainstream reporters and editorial boards. The resulting 47 NO on 37 editorials, and hundreds of news stories and online posts highlighting the measure’s flaws were critical in opening voters’ eyes and the resulting failure of Prop. 37.


Proposition 37 failed on Election Day, 48.6% Yes to 51.4% No.