Stonyfield Chairman Throws Weight/Commitment behind Proposition 37 in California

September 19th, 2012

Gary Hirshberg Encourages All Organic Stakeholders to Invest in GMO Labeling

Cornucopia, WI – At least one chapter in what some in the organic industry described as a “family feud” has been amicably settled after one of the organic industry’s most prominent corporate leaders, Gary Hirshberg, cut a check supporting the campaign to pass California Proposition 37, a citizen’s initiative that will mandate the labeling of genetically modified food ingredients (GMOs) on the food’s packaging.

The controversy started after an organic industry watchdog, The Cornucopia Institute, questioned why some of the most prominent and profitable companies in organics, including Stonyfield, had not financially contributed to what they described as “the food fight of the decade.”

Cornucopia stated it publicly questioned why a number of leading brands and corporate leaders were “conspicuously absent” in financially supporting an important opportunity for GMO labeling, one leader agreed to talk.

“It would have been easy to understand if Stonyfield’s Gary Hirshberg had become defensive and refused to participate.  But instead, we spoke at length by phone, and we exchanged a lot both of us had not previously known—including that he and his wife already had a contribution in the works,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector at The Cornucopia Institute.

In addition to recognizing that Hirshberg had recently been speaking out in California on behalf of the Proposition 37 campaign Kastel said, “I’m personally impressed with his gesture, making an individual financial contribution to this critical right-to-know effort.”

Cornucopia’s criticism of corporate leaders, who had previously not invested in the Proposition 37 fight, was what they called “a narrowly focused critique based strictly on financial support for the Yes on 37 effort.”  Some corporate leaders in organics came to Hirshberg’s defense because they were aware of his reputation fighting for GMO labeling.

“There has never been a doubt about Gary’s commitment to the fight, at a national level, for GMO-free food, and the right for consumers to make an informed choice.  He has been one of the most outspoken advocates petitioning the Obama administration, and working with members of Congress, to get labeling required on a federal level in Washington, D.C.,” said Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s Research Director.

In addition to his role as Chairman of the Board at Stonyfield, Hirshberg is also one of the founders and the Chairman of the Just Label It Campaign, working to secure uniform, federal GMO labeling nationwide, as is the standard throughout Europe.

Mandatory labeling of GE food ingredients is required in the European Union and dozens of other countries across the globe.  The most recent polling from California indicates that almost 70% of the population supports labeling of GE ingredients—a better than two to one margin versus those opposed.  This level of support will soon be tested by an impending flood of advertisements, financed by Monsanto and the giant food lobby, in opposition to Proposition 37.

“Gary is not to blame for the lack of success, so far, in the effort to secure labeling on a federal level,” Kastel added.  “Sadly, this is not the only issue where the vast majority of the citizenry is unable to have their voice heard.  In this case, 1.3 million signatures collected by the Just Label It campaign are being drowned out by the massive sound of cash, from agribusiness and biotechnology, running through federal campaign cash registers.”

“Although I obviously felt personally targeted by Cornucopia’s campaign, I understand their concern that a number of organic stakeholders have stepped up while others had not yet invested,” said Hirshberg.  “I was happy to share with Mark, during our conversation, that numerous companies have also funded the Proposition 37 effort and not the national Just Label It campaign but that Just Label It has been nonetheless fully on board supporting Proposition 37.”

“Based on Gary’s response, both with a personal financial commitment, after Stonyfield has already donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the fight for federal labeling, and his outreach in California to solicit additional funding, we are delighted to remove his picture from the ‘MIA’ poster,” said Kastel.  “I am really impressed that his commitment to this fight is strong enough that he did not let any bruised feelings interfere with his supporting the battle in California.”  The current iteration of Cornucopia’s missing in action poster can be found at: http://www.cornucopia.org/2012/08/prop37/

Although, since this controversy was first sparked, some other major companies, including Whole Foods Market and Hain Celestial, have come out publicly with statements in support of Proposition 37, Cornucopia said it continues to ask corporate officers at the largest organic manufacturers and retailers to reconsider their lack of financial support for California’s critical citizen initiative.

“It is frequently said, ‘as California goes, so goes the nation,’” observed Fantle.  “If consumers in California win the right-to-know what is in the food they are feeding their families and their children, we may all, nationally, be winners.”

“I have been working nearly full time for Just Label It for nearly two full years,” said Hirshberg.  “Although I am not going to let up one iota in my efforts at the national level, I have been supporting the California effort through lectures and fundraising appeals and will continue to do so until November 6 when citizens have a chance to directly make this decision for themselves.  My recent personal contribution is one more element of my ongoing work in support of Yes on 37 in California.”

After spending a couple hours speaking with Hirshberg, Cornucopia’s Kastel said, “We have not changed our mind in terms of the political practicality of convincing politicians, of either party, in Washington that they should respect the choice of consumers on GMO labeling, and that the Proposition 37 campaign, currently, is the only game in town.  But if we don’t prevail in California I think Cornucopia, and many others, will be looking to the Just Label It national effort, and Gary’s leadership, as a primary vehicle to get behind.  We assuredly wish him well on his federal efforts and hope he can pull a rabbit out of the hat.”

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