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For many decades, corporate agribusiness interests in the San Joaquin Valley have made big profits by receiving subsidized water and government subsidies while falsely portraying themselves as "family farmers" straight out of a Grant Wood painting.

The latest episode in this long charade is the appearance of "California family farmer" Ted Sheely in television ads against Proposition 37 ( Proposition 37, the "Right to Know" proposition, is a November 2012 ballot measure that requires the labeling of genetically engineered food in California.

"It's going to put the California farmer at a disadvantage with the other 49 states," claims Sheely. "The people that are least able to pay are going to be forced to pay more. Please join California farmers in voting No on Prop 37."

What the ad doesn't tell you is that Sheely is a Westlands Water District grower and past member of the Westlands Board of Directors who grows genetically engineered cotton in the San Joaquin Valley on his 8,700-acre farm in Kings County.

"At least we suspect it’s genetically engineered cotton," said Tom Fendley of the Yes on Proposition 37 Campaign. "Food companies aren't required to tell us, even if it winds up in our food as cottonseed oil."

Westlands Water District, the "poster child" of unsustainable corporate agribusiness in California, is known for its relentless efforts over the years to stop the restoration of salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt and other fish species on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, its unsuccessful legal campaign to block Trinity River restoration and its current campaign to build the peripheral tunnels.  

Fendley counters Sheely's claims, stating, "Farmers overwhelmingly support Prop 37.  They agree that we have the right to know what they're growing for us.  In fact, more than 2,000 farmers and agricultural organizations say Yes on 37, including the National Family Farm Coalition, the California State Grange, and California Certified Organic Farmers."

"Monsanto and the rest of the Big 6 pesticide companies are no friend to farmers, so they hide behind people like Ted Sheely in their Million Dollars a Day television ads," Fendley said. "Ted appears in one of the many TV ads deliberately lying to California voters about Proposition 37. The ad featuring Sheely asserts that Prop 37 will raise food costs by 'billions of dollars.'"

According to Fendley, "There is no independent evidence---nor coherent logic---supporting that claim, of course.  Prop 37 simply requires a label on genetically engineered foods, which will cost consumers, well, nothing. Food companies change their labels every 6-12 months on average; Prop 37 gives them 18 months."  

"Our pesticide and junk food industry opponent's have one central goal behind their Million Dollar a Day ad campaign: steer voters away from the irresistible notion that we have the right to know what's in the food on our grocery store shelves. Let's steer voters back to this simple truth," stated Fendley.

Sustainable family farmers agree with Fendley - and not with Sheely. "Who are we growing this food for?  We're growing it for the consumer," said David Winsberg of Happy Quail Farms.  "It's important we all know what's in our food."

Who is Ted Sheely? According to the "Truth About Trade & Technology" website (, "Ted Sheely operates Ted D. Sheely Farms - raising upland and pima cotton, tomatoes, wheat, pistachios, wine grapes and garlic - in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Ted served on the California Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors from 1989-1996."

"In addition to Farm Bureau, he has also served on the National Cotton Council Board of Directors. Currently, he is a member of the board of Directors for the Westlands Water District and was elected Chairman of the Board for Cotton Incorporated for 2008-2009. In 1999, Ted received the High Cotton Award from the Cotton Foundation / Farm Press. He has also been honored by the California Water Policy Conference with the Innovative Water Conservation Award," his biography concludes.

Sheely is not listed as a current board member on the Westlands Water District Website:  

Westlands gives $35,000 to Vann, $14,000 to Gill and $50,000 to Prop. 30

The No on Proposition 37 campaign is not the only one that Westlands growers are involved with in the November election.

A review of Federal Election Commission records by this reporter has exposed an effort by the politically powerful water district to replace the two pro-Delta Representatives, John Garamendi and Jerry McNerney, with two candidates more aligned with their effort to drain the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. ( )

Westlands growers, their PACs, and their associated growing associations have given at least $35,000 to Congressional Candidate Kim Vann, who is running in California District 3 against incumbent Congressman John Garamendi.

In the California Congressional District 9 race, Westlands, their associated growers associations, and Westlands Board Members have contributed over $14,000 to Congressional Candidate Ricky Gill.

Then the Fresno Bee revealed that Five top officials in the Westlands Water District, all Republicans, on October 20 collectively donated more than $50,000 to support Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's tax measure on the Nov. 6 ballot. Delta advocates believe that the contribution is designed as "insurance" that Brown follows through with his controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels to export massive amounts of water to Westlands and other corporate agribusiness interests.

Read more here:

For more information about the Yes on 37 campaign, contact:

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