Ag Policy Blog

Biotech Label Battles Continue at Ballot Box

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Fights about labels are just all the rage right now.

Whether it's Canada complaining that the U.S. is nothing but a bunch of WTO violators -- can we talk about dairy tariffs, eh? -- or the push at the state level to label those darned GMOs.

Looking at the current situation with ballot measures in Colorado and Oregon, the Wall Street Journal dubbed such biotech labeling measures as "Organic Food Protectionists."

Vermont's legislature and governor adopted biotech labeling requirements earlier this year, but Colorado and Oregon mark another round of fighting for the hearts of minds of voters through ballot initiatives.

Similar ballot measures have failed in California and Washington over the past two years. Both of those votes were close and it is likely these ballot measures in Colorado and Oregon will be close as well. Given the money opponents are pumping into it, those votes will be close.

Colorado Proposition 105

The proposition would require labeling "Produced with Genetic Engineering" on any "prepackaged, processed food or raw agricultural commodity that has been produced using genetic modification."

AP reports Monsanto has given $4.7 million to defeat the Colorado measure while soda rivals Coca-Cola and Pepsico have given a combined $1.9 million, AP reported. Supporters have spent about $500,000.

The Denver Post wrote an editorial earlier in October opposing the proposition, calling it "a badly flawed measure that will hurt Colorado farmers and food producers without providing any health benefit to consumers."…

Companies such as Ben&Jerry's ice cream and Chipotle Mexican Grill have come out in support of Colorado's proposition, (and, I imagine, Oregon's measure).

“Fundamentally, we believe that people have a right to know what’s in the food they eat,” said Steve Ells, chairman and co-CEO at Chipotle. “Consumers want this information, and we are already giving it to them. But well-funded opposition groups continue to fight labeling efforts, with opponents putting their own profits ahead of consumer preferences.”

Oregon Measure 92

This is Oregon's second go at trying to label foods derived from genetically-engineered crops. The state tried in 2002 but that measure was defeated.

The label would require on the front of packaging "Produced with Genetic Engineering" or "Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering." Besides enforcement actions by the state, "any injured person" can bring legal action against a company violating the label.

The Portland Oregonian reported Oct. 28 that Measure 92 is about 6 points down in the polls. The paper also cited that the genetic-engineering measure is "the costliest ballot measure fight in Oregon history." Opponents have raised $18.7 million while supporters have raised $7 million.…

Despite arguments from food companies and other opponents, Consumers Union released a report citing that Measure 92's labeling requirements would cost consumers roughly $2.30 a year. Other studies have pegged the costs at closer to $500 a year.…

Maui Wowie

Voters in Maui County, Hawaii, also will vote on a measure that would ban "any growth, testing or cultivating of genetically modified, or engineered crops and put a stop to any genetically engineering cultivation in the county. The measure could be waved in cases "as to a specific person or entity when required environmental and public health impact studies, public hearings, a two thirds vote and a determination by the County Council that such operation or practice meets certain standards." The ordinance comes with a $10,000 a day fine for businesses that violate it.

Vermont Rulemaking

Vermont, by the way, is in the middle of rulemaking on its legislation passed earlier this year. Lo and behold, a lot of different foods are seeking exemptions. Products such as cheese and beer, it turns out, likely face labels because it's common to make those products using genetically modified enzymes. Vermont also has opted not to require biotech labeling for dietary supplements. The Grocery Manufacturers Association is leading a lawsuit to stop Vermont's law.

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Brandon Butler
11/6/2014 | 12:15 PM CST
Do you ever have an original thought, Cliché?
Jay Mcginnis
11/6/2014 | 6:09 AM CST
Those greedy organic farmers! How dare they challenge corporate earnings when our corporations are already taxed by the socialist Obama!!!!! How can the CEO's and prominent share holders pay for their $80million spare mansions and $150 million paintings to grace them???? Lets just hope that the new senate will relive such regulatory and tax burdens before the job creators are forced to buy $40 million mansions and $75 million paintings for them!!!!!
11/4/2014 | 2:33 PM CST
Put a label on all food products stating that either by design or by accident there may be some GMO ingredients in this product, problem solved. Let the food elitist and food Nazi s label there products as having no GMO ingredients in them. If some are found in the NON GMO products the lawyers can sue the food purist for damages.
Curt Zingula
11/1/2014 | 9:04 AM CDT
WSJ is spot on - organic farmers want to protect/enhance their premiums!