A new crop of political candidates who list concerns about GMOs as a major part of their platforms has emerged in congressional, gubernatorial and local elections from Hawaii to Iowa. The surge in national attention being paid to genetically modifiied crops in food has helped turn a new bloc of Americans into engaged participants in the political process, according to the nascent movement’s leading voices.
What is not yet known is whether the passion driving the anti-GMO movement will result in wins at the voting booth or the passage of actual legislation.
Steven Stokes, an independent candidate to replace Democratic incumbent Adam Schiff in California’s 28th District congressional election, has made the GMO issue a central part of his long-shot campaign. A political newbie, Stokes appears on a ballot for the first time in November. The real estate and mortgage broker came in second in the state’s top-two primary in June.
Stokes’s interest in the food supply began when he dated a woman who paid close attention ther diet and was careful to eat organic. He heard about last year’s controversy over the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act” and became involved in the movement, eventually deciding that someone needed to run against Schiff, who voted for the measure. He tried to recruit a number of prominent local figures to throw their hat in the ring but when they all demurred, Stokes decided to join the race himself.
“I am putting it at the forefront; it probably is my biggest issue politically: food safety, GMOs, pesticides in the food supply, and the way it crosses over to the ways corporations are buying influence in our country and buying politicians, and how Monsanto is able to sell these foods without labeling them. I think it is a winning political issue,” he told IBTimes. “I do feel that more people are outraged about Monsanto and GMOs than about issues like security, because people all have to eat.”
Stokes is not alone in his approach.
James Hinton, an independent vying for California’s 5th District Congressional seat, survived the June primary on a platform that championed his strong anti-GMO stance. He is preparing to face off against Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson in the November general election. Former state representative Bob Krause, a Democrat, announced in September 2013 that he was running for governor of Iowa as the “GMO labeling candidate,” but gave up just a few months into the campaign. Hawaii saw a number of anti-GMO crusaders run for local office, most of whom ended up being bested by supporters of the technology.
While the results have not been positive for the anti-GMO crowd so far, the GMO issue isn’t going away, as state governments across the nation are considering labeling and other measures aimed at addressing concerns about genetically engineered foods. Earlier this year Vermont became the first state to mandate that companies label products containing GMO products, beginning in 2016. At the same time, a series of states have rejected similar proposals, bolstering the arguments of GMO proponents and industry groups alike.
Marianne Williamson, a popular New Age author and prominent advocate of progressive issues, ran a $2 million campaign to replace longtime Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman in California’s 33rd District. Despite the deep war chest and celebrity backers like Kim Kardashian and Katy Perry she was able to amass during her run, she only came in fourth place in the district's June primary. But she says that the difficulties the anti-GMO movement is having in getting its people elected in some districts should not be interpreted as indications that it is not on the rise.
“It’s a unique phenomenon. The food issue has been a political awakener for many people,” Williamson told IBTimes. “People are all of a sudden realizing there’s only so much consciousness I can bring to my food choices if Monsanto and Big Ag can do whatever they want, and as long as their short-term economic needs are given precedent over me and my family. That’s dawned on many people for the first time in their lives. It’s the first time they went, ‘oh my God.’”
The issue, Stokes said, transcends party lines. “We have to start educating ourselves to the fact that it’s not a divide between Democrats and Republicans,” he said.
To many anti-GMO candidates and advocates, the role of corporate political influence is the key to understanding the growing appeal of their core issue, and they say the genetic-engineering debate is driving many otherwise apolitical people toward engagement. That will eventually propel people of their persuasion to higher office, they say.
“Usually, food is a personal issue for most people. Those are often people who would not be the most open to conversations about the corporate takeover of the government, and the political issues that represents,” Williamson said. “All of a sudden, people have come to terms with the fact that this whole idea of corporate dominance is going to impact their lives in one way or another … That’s what the food issue has been for a lot of people.”