GMO Labeling Opponents Forced to Pull Misleading Ad

With only 31 days left until the November election, the red-hot fight over California’s historic Proposition 37, which would require labeling of food containing genetically modified ingredients, is now smoking.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the No on 37 coalition briefly pulled a television ad this week after complaints that the researcher appearing in the spot was identified as “Dr. Henry I. Miller M.D., Stanford University, founding dir. FDA Office of Technology.”

Dr. Miller is not a professor at the university. He is a research fellow in scientific philosophy and public policy for the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank located on the Stanford campus; and is the author of The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution.

RELATED: 18 Companies That Oppose GMO Food Labeling

The use of Stanford University’s name and campus background for political purposes violates university policy, and was brought to the school’s attention by attorneys for the Yes on Prop 37 California Right to Know campaign.

Lisa Lapin, Stanford University spokesperson, tells the Times that the university “doesn’t take any position on candidates or ballot measures, and we do not allow political filing on campus.”

Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for the No on 37 coalition, says the television ad was never actually pulled, but was edited, and is currently running. As of this morning, ads now identify Miller as a “Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University,” with an asterisk noting that “titles are for identification purposes only.”

“We’ve edited his credit and the ID card under his name to reflect he is a fellow at the Hoover Institute,” Fairbanks tells TakePart. “The Yes on 37 [campaign] is starting to get a bit desperate. They are starting a campaign attempting to silence people who want to speak out on No on 37. Dr. Miller isn’t the first doctor they’ve targeted for intimidation.”

Stacy Malkan, spokesperson for the California Right to Know campaign, says the misrepresentation of Miller’s affiliation and the researcher’s credibility are the issue here.

“This is a doctor that thinks we should bring back DDT, and that Prop 37 is too confusing for the public,” she tells TakePart. “He’s being trotted out as a top expert, reading a script from the pesticide companies, on a commercial that’s being run every single hour across the state of California.”

Indeed, the labeling initiative is turning out to be the David and Goliath political food battle of the 2012 election. So far, the No on 37 group has amassed nearly $35 million in donations from large corporations, including Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Mars, Hormel, General Mills and others, opposing the labeling requirement. In comparison, the California Right to Know Campaign has raised approximately $4 million in donations, many from small individual donors, but is believed to have a strong chance of passing in November, and currently maintains broad support among voters throughout the state.

According to the most recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, California voters favor the initiative by a 2-to-1 margin, and across “most age groups, geographic areas, ethnic groups and educational levels.”

That could bode well for other GMO labeling initiatives starting to sprout across the country, including Washington state, where supporters are working to get a similar measure on the 2013 ballot. That effort was given a boost this week by PCC Natural Markets, a Seattle grocery chain that announced $100,000 in funding to collect signatures to get it on next year’s ballot.

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Clare Leschin-Hoar covers seafood, sustainability and food politics. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, The Wall Street Journal, Grist, Eating Well and many more. @c_leschin |