An ABC News poll shows 93% of Americans want labels on genetically modified foods, but an attempt to make them law in California drew just 47% of the vote.

Proposition 37 went down in flames in the Nov. 6 election.

I guess we’re bucking the trend here in the Golden State. Or maybe it was just asking too much of the measure’s backers to cobble together a winning majority out of 93% support.

The ballot initiative’s failure was blamed variously on poor wording, loopholes, or $45 million in opposition donations, mostly from the packaged and canned foods industry.

Seed companies Bayer CropScience and Syngenta grabbed a piece of that action, about $2 million each. Monsanto was the biggest donor at more than $8 million, nearly matching the whole war chest backing Proposition 37.

Organic Consumers Fund was the top donor on the yes side with about $1.3 million. Endorsements from organic growers included Lundberg Family Farms and Stonyfield Farm.

The implication that organics or anyone stood to profit from GMO labels — however much less than Monsanto profits from their absence — cost credibility for 37.

California is liberal, but jaded by the tug of war between competing interests in the initiative process.

Support was framed in terms of a right to know, but in its fine print the campaign also wanted to pin a scarlet letter on supposed sinners.

Support tactics

One argument in the state’s official ballot materials claimed 37 would help protect your family’s health.

The California Council of Churches was among the groups favoring 37. Churches play a smaller role in California life than they once did, or still do elsewhere.

But there are as many puritans here as ever, people consumed by thoughts of virtue and vice if not matters of faith.

They were a natural constituency for the measure. But even on friendly turf, you’ve still got to make the sale.

Somebody will make it. If 93% want GMO labeling, it will happen eventually. Then it’ll be up to the industry to turn a scarlet letter into a badge of honor, if it can.

Get those marketing departments warmed up in the bullpen.

In other states

The next step for advocacy groups like Just Label It is in the state of Washington, where signatures are being gathered for a 2013 ballot initiative.

Federal farm bill lobbying is also on tap.

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