GMO Labeling on the Ballot in Oregon and Colorado


By Tennille Tracy

Voters in Oregon and Colorado will decide this week whether food makers must label their products as containing genetically modified ingredients, marking a test of consumers’ desire to know more about what they eat.

The most common genetically modified foods are corn, soybeans and sugar beets, which are often engineered to withstand pesticides. They are then processed into ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup or soybean oil.

The FDA doesn’t require labels on genetically modified foods and says modified crops aren’t materially different from conventionally grown varieties. But a pair of ballot measures, known as Proposition 92 in Oregon and Proposition 105 in Colorado, represents the latest attempt to require labels on genetically modified food after similar efforts failed in California and Washington.

Vermont is the only state that has a labeling mandate. Its law, scheduled to go into effect in 2016, first must overcome a court challenge.

Labeling bills have been introduced in 28 states so far this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. If more states pass new requirements, creating a patchwork of rules across the country, the fight is likely to shift to the federal government and a national standard could emerge.

“This is really an age-old tension between companies that want to tell you the story about their products and the government, exercising its authority, telling you what’s in the box,” said Scott Faber, head of lobbying at the Environmental Working Group, which supports a national-labeling requirement.

Recent polls suggest the Oregon measure may have a chance of passing while the Colorado initiative appears headed for defeat.

A poll released last week, commissioned by the Oregonian newspaper and NBC affiliate KGW, shows 42{28d451f77a4de8a52cd2586be6cc1800527fe70ea84e8b3f90098495d088e086} respondents in support of the Oregon measure and 48{28d451f77a4de8a52cd2586be6cc1800527fe70ea84e8b3f90098495d088e086} against it. A poll earlier in October by Oregon Public Broadcasting /Fox 12, found the reverse—49{28d451f77a4de8a52cd2586be6cc1800527fe70ea84e8b3f90098495d088e086} supporting it and 44{28d451f77a4de8a52cd2586be6cc1800527fe70ea84e8b3f90098495d088e086} opposing. The remainder were undecided.

In Colorado, a recent Suffolk University/USA Today poll found that 30{28d451f77a4de8a52cd2586be6cc1800527fe70ea84e8b3f90098495d088e086} of respondents were in favor while 49{28d451f77a4de8a52cd2586be6cc1800527fe70ea84e8b3f90098495d088e086} opposed it. The rest were undecided.

The Oregon measure requires packaged food to include the words “genetically engineered” on the front or back of the product, “clearly and conspicuously.”

Such labeling is likely to dissuade some consumers from buying the product. Also troubling for food companies is the precedent it sets. If states can require information on genetically modified ingredients, manufacturers say, that could open the door for other types of labels, such as identifying a product’s greenhouse-gas footprint.

“The proponents of GMO labeling have been clear in their public statements that they want to eliminate GMOs from the marketplace,” said Mike Gruber, a lobbyist with the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a group that represents Kraft Foods Group Inc., General Mills Inc. and other major food makers. “Labeling is the first step to do that.”

Food and seed companies say Oregon’s proposed labeling requirement would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to implement, mostly because items destined for Oregon would need to be separately packaged and labeled. That would make groceries more expensive for consumers, they say.

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Source: Wall Street Journal

Posted by Jami Howell

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