Oregon ballot measure: A 'pivotal moment' in the battle to label GE foods

Sound Consumer | October 2002

by Cameron Woodworth, Communications Director, The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods

Next month, Oregon voters will have a chance to send a powerful message to the nation: that Americans are demanding genetically engineered foods to be labeled.

Oregon ballot Measure 27 would require foods produced or sold in Oregon to bear labels if they contain genetically modified ingredients. More than 100,000 Oregonians signed petitions to place the measure on the ballot.

It's a message that's been reflected time and again in national public opinion surveys — an extraordinary 93 percent of Americans want genetically altered foods to be labeled, according to an ABC News poll. So far, however, the U.S. government has refused to label these controversial new foods, largely because the lobbyists of biotech corporations such as Monsanto wield enormous power in the halls of Congress.

Measure 27 is a "pivotal moment" in the battle to label genetically engineered foods, says John Robbins, author of "Diet for a New America" and "The Food Revolution." Last month, Robbins was the main speaker at an educational forum and fundraiser organized by The Campaign, for Measure 27 in Portland.

The biotech industry realizes how important the battle over Measure 27 is. It's pouring millions of dollars into an advertising campaign designed to mislead people into thinking that labeling will make food cost more. It won't — prices have not increased due to labeling in any of the 30 or so countries that have passed labeling laws. Before the advertising onslaught, polls showed that pro-labeling forces were winning on Measure 27 by about 20 percentage points.

Biotech companies are concerned about labeling because they know labels will stop some people from buying genetically engineered foods. According to that ABC News poll, 57 percent of Americans say they're less likely to purchase foods labeled as "genetically engineered."

If Measure 27 passes, food companies will be under pressure to search for non-GMO ingredients, and other states may run their own labeling initiatives.

"These companies really, really want to defeat Measure 27," Robbins says, "because California is the next domino." In addition, Washington and other states may try to put labeling on the ballot in 2003 or 2004.

Even if Oregonians are successful in passing Measure 27, it appears likely that the biotech industry, and possibly the federal government, will challenge Oregon's labeling law in court. At the same time, passage of the measure would increase pressure on Congress to pass a national labeling law.

While The Campaign's chief focus is on passing national labeling legislation, we have become heavily involved in the Oregon effort because of how important it is. The battle is being watched around the world, with Measure 27 appearing in many European papers.

If you know people in Oregon, please tell them to vote "Yes" on Measure 27. For more information about the ballot measure, visit www.labelgefoods.org, or our website, www.thecampaign.org. Also, The Campaign can make great use of your financial donations in our efforts to help pass this crucial ballot measure!

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