A mammoth food fight is underway in California – and several crop science firms with North Carolina connections are planted right smack dab in the middle of it.

BASF Plant Science, Bayer Crop Science along with Monsanto, Syngenta and Dow AgroSciences are pouring millions of dollars into a campaign against a genetically engineered foods and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) labeling proposition in California nicknamed “Right To Know.” Voters vote thumbs up or down in November. An August poll showed proponents far ahead.

Proposition 37, is being fought by what proponents call the “Big 6 pesticide firms” – Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer, Dow, BASF and Syngenta.

According to its supporters, Proposition 37 “is a common-sense November ballot measure that will help consumers make informed choices about the food they eat. Written with broad input from food groups, industry, science, legal and health experts Prop. 37 (The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act) requires clear labels letting consumers know if foods are genetically modified. We already have food labels showing nutrition, allergy information and other facts consumers want to know. This measure simply adds information telling us if food is produced using genetic engineering.”

The backers want more information about genetically engineered food which they define as “a plant or meat product that has had its DNA artificially altered in a laboratory by genes from other plants, animals, viruses, or bacteria in order to produce foreign compounds in that food. This type of genetic alteration is not found in nature and is experimental. Many of the foods we currently eat and feed our families (including certain baby formulas and a high percentage of corn, soy, cotton and sugar beets commonly used in processed foods sold in the U.S.), but we don’t know which ones without labeling.”

There are opponents, of course, and not just from the corporate world.

“Like the overwhelming majority of scientific and medical experts and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, we believe that foods made with the benefit of modern biotechnology are safe and that labeling them as “genetically engineered” would mislead consumers by creating the false impression that foods containing GE ingredients are less safe than foods made without the benefit of biotechnology. Mandatory labeling can only be scientifically justified when based on the characteristics of the food product, not on the processes used in their development,” says a group of scientists who have posted an on-line petition against Prop 37.

Adds the “No on Prop 37” group: “Proposition 37 would ban the sale of tens of thousands of perfectly-safe, common grocery products only in California unless they are specially repackaged, relabeled or made with higher cost ingredients. Prop 37 is a deceptive, deeply flawed food labeling scheme that would add more government bureaucracy and taxpayer costs, create new frivolous lawsuits, and increase food costs by billions — without providing any health or safety benefits. That’s why Prop 37 is opposed by a broad coalition of family farmers, scientists, doctors, business, labor, taxpayers and consumers.”

Big Dollars from RTP

According to the backers who cite campaign disclosure records from the California Secretary of State’s office, the “Big 6” have poured $19 million into the “No on 37” campaign out of $32 million raised.

The Triangle and North Carolina is a growing hub for crop biotech with firms such as BASF, Bayer CropScience, Syngenta, Novozymes and Monsanto operating here.

In 2011, Bayer and Syngenta announced major expansions in RTP with Bayer recently opening a huge $20 million greenhouse facility.

In 2010, Monsanto picked the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis for a new lab.

And BASF decided to move its genetic crop group to RTP from Germany due in part to growing opposition to genetically engineered crops in Europe.

Several of the companies have fought each other in court over a variety of issues at times. Now they are allies.

“Monsanto wants to buy this election so they can keep hiding what’s really in our food,” Gary Ruskin, campaign manager of the Yes on Proposition 37 campaign, said in announcing the latest round of campaign contributions. “They are on the losing side of history. Californians want the right to know what’s in our food, and we will win it.”

Monsanto recently gave $2.89 million to fight the measure. DuPont chipped in $874,800, Dow $815,200, Bayer CropScience $381,600, BASF $357,700 and Syngenta $178,700, the Prop 37 proponents said.

Thus far, the anti-labeling funding from the corporations:

  • Monsanto, $7.1 million
  • DuPont, $4.9 million
  • BASF Plant Science, $2 million
  • Bayer CropScience, $2 million
  • Dow Agrosciences, $2 million
  • Syngenta, $1 million

Other contributors include: Pepsico, Nestle USA, Coca-Cola, Conagra.