Did the No-On-37 Campaign Fabricate a Quote From the FDA?

A mailer sent by the No On 37 campaign to millions of California households is the subject of the latest scuffle in an increasingly feisty tit-for-tat over the state proposition that calls for food made with genetically modified components to be labeled.

GMO soybeans. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

At issue are a single quotation mark – either a typo or a fabrication, depending on whom you ask – and the questionable use of a federal logo.

The mailer that No On 37 sent out highlights five anti-Prop 37 quotes, including one each from the California Farm Bureau Federation and the U.S. Latino Chamber of Commerce. Alongside each quote is the group’s logo.

But one of the quoted organizations, the Food and Drug Administration, cannot, by law, endorse state ballot items. And according to FDA policy, its logo “is for the official use of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and not for the use of the private sector on its materials… Misuse of the FDA logo may violate federal law and subject those responsible to criminal penalties.” In Thursday’s email blast, the Yes On 37 campaign called the mailer another “dirty trick” by the No side. “The No on 37 campaign falsely attributed a direct quote to FDA in the campaign mailer,” wrote Stacy Malkan on the group’s blog.

But where, exactly, is the direct quote? Readers, dust off your grammar books. Here’s the sentence in question from the No on 37 mailer:

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says a labeling policy like Prop 37 would be “inherently misleading.”

You’ll note the opening quotation mark, but not one that closes the sentence. And you’ll also note that the inside quotation marks surrounding the words “inherently misleading” should be single, not double, because it’s a quote-within-a-quote. So what we have here is a grammatical double no-no, at the very least, and an error that’s “clearly fraudulent” at the very most. The latter characterization is the one that was sent in a letter to the Department of Justice by the Yes campaign.

What we have here is a grammatical double no-no, at the very least, and an error that’s “clearly fraudulent” at the very most.

So what do the Nos have to say about it?

“It’s a typo.” That’s No-on-37 spokeswoman Kathy Fairbanks speaking in a phone interview on Thursday.

Fairbanks said the error appeared on only one of four regional versions of the mailer. This particular version, she said, reached “tens of thousands” of California households. By email, Fairbanks forwarded another version without the opening quotation mark.

“If the Yes On 37 folks want to move forward with a criminal investigation on an errant typo, then that shows their campaign is devolving into chaos,” said Fairbanks.

But to Tom Fendley, with the Yes campaign, there’s nothing innocent about the error. Fendley says the mailer, including the use of the FDA logo, was designed to suggest that the FDA has taken a position against Prop 37.

“It’s just the latest in a series, as part of their $36-million disinformation campaign,” said Fendley.

As for the FDA logo, Fairbanks maintains there’s nothing untoward or illegal about her campaign’s use of it. “That is not what our attorney told me,” she said. Federal statute, if not the FDA site, she said, permits such use as long as the logo has not been “forged, counterfeited, or mutilated.”

FDA spokeswoman Sandy Walsh said she’d ask the agency’s lawyers to look into it. Stay tuned.

  • peter_rabbit_the_original

    A very convenient typo from the same folks opposing transparency.

    What does that tell us? They are either hiding, or ignorant of, facts.

    Vote YES on 37!!!

  • Diane Trefethen

    While the brochure may be unclear, the pdf file http://www.noprop37.com/uploads/No37_Fact_v11.pdf is not. At the top in BIG LETTERS it clearly states: US FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION says such a labeling policy would “be inherently misleading.”

  • Brie

    What part of the quote does Fairbanks say is a typo? The mailer I have from No on 37 does not have an open quote before “The US Food…” The quotes are clearly around “inherently misleading.” If those two words are NOT a quote from the FDA regarding Prop 37, then it’s fraudulent. Why aren’t more media outlets covering this?