Bogusky Squares Off Against Nestle, Conagra in California Food Fight

Former CP&B Exec Gives Big Bucks to Support Proposed Labeling Law for Foods With Genetically Engineered Ingredients

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Adman and activist Alex Bogusky has jumped into one of the biggest food fights of the year, dropping $100,000 in support of a California ballot proposition that would require special labels for foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. His donation pits him against big packaged-food and drink marketers such as PepsiCo, Nestle, Coca Cola Co. and Conagra, which have donated millions of dollars to the No on Prop. 37 campaign.

Alex Bogusky
Alex Bogusky

Mr. Bogusky, a former CP&B executive, recently got back in the ad business with his involvement in a startup agency called Made Movement, which is focused on American manufacturing. On his Yes on 37 donation, he lists his employer as "Fearless Revolution," a consulting company he founded that describes its mission as helping "big companies and titans of industry uncover the consumer advocate hiding inside the layers of corporate BS." Among the organization's projects are these videos that discuss the "risks of genetically modified foods."

Genetic engineering involves changing the genetic make-up of plants and animals involved in the food supply to produce a desired result, such as making them pest-resistant. In 2011, 88% of all corn and 94% of all soybeans produced in the U.S. were grown from genetically modified seeds, according to the non-partisan California Legislative Analyst's Office.

Supporters of Prop. 37, which include organic-food makers and consumer groups, are pushing a "right to know" message, saying that genetically engineered foods have "not been proven safe, and long-term health studies have not been conducted." The biggest donor to the Yes campaign is Mercola, operator of a natural health resources website, which has given $1.1 million, according to MapLight. Mr. Bogusky is the sixth-largest donor, tied with Amy's Kitchen and Clif Bar & Co.

In an email to Ad Age , Mr. Bogusky said: "There is no consumer benefit to GMOs [genetically modified organisms], so of course the industry fights the effort in California to label them. The industry also knows that in places where GMOs have been labeled, like most of Europe and Japan, consumers have rejected them." He added that "Prop. 37 is the biggest vote that will happen this year and it's a rare chance for consumers to take back a fundamental right to know what they are eating."

The No campaign argues that there is no scientific justification for labeling because "biotech foods are safe." The measure would only "add another layer of bureaucracy and red tape for food producers and increase food costs," the campaign says. The largest No donor is Monsanto Co. with $7.1 million, according to MapLight. PepsiCo has given $1.7 million, while Nestle, Coca-Cola and Conagra have all chipped in a little more than $1 million each.

Regarding concerted efforts from such companies, Mr. Bogusky said, "it's ironic that these same companies are suggesting that consumers have a right to choose as they fight Bloomberg in [New York], but then turn around and fund the effort to keep consumers in the dark on GMOs. I guess they only support your right to choose when they're certain that you'll make the choice that they want you to make."

While the No side has a huge financial lead -- $32.5 million to $3.9 million, according to MapLight -- the Yes campaign has a big polling lead, with 61% of registered voters in support, 25% against and 14% undecided, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

Still, the well-funded No side will likely have a big advertising advantage, including these spots which feature a concerned farmer and a worried small grocery business, which is shown tangled in red tape.

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