POLICY & REGULATION: Oregon (USA) could ban GE fish, require labeling of GM foods
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TITLE: OREGON COULD BAN GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FISH, REQUIRE LABELING OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS
SOURCE: The Oregonian, USA
AUTHOR: Yuxing Zheng
SUMMARY: "Oregon could become the first state in the nation to require the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients under several bills in the Legislature. State lawmakers are considering at least eight bills on genetically modified food labeling, fish and crops. Several bills would require foods produced with genetically engineered materials to be labeled. Others bills would prohibit importing or cultivating genetically engineered fish. Three other bills would place restrictions on the planting of genetically modified crops and require manufacturers of genetically engineered seeds to be held liable for damages to neighboring crops. "
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OREGON COULD BAN GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FISH, REQUIRE LABELING OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS
SALEM -- Oregon could become the first state in the nation to require the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients under several bills in the Legislature.
State lawmakers are considering at least eight bills on genetically modified food labeling, fish and crops. Several bills would require foods produced with genetically engineered materials to be labeled. Others bills would prohibit importing or cultivating genetically engineered fish. Three other bills would place restrictions on the planting of genetically modified crops and require manufacturers of genetically engineered seeds to be held liable for damages to neighboring crops.
"I think consumers have a right to know and make their own decisions about these foods," said Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, who is sponsoring several of the bills on genetically modified labeling and fish.
The battle over genetically modified -- or engineered -- organisms and their safety for farming and consumption has long been a hot topic. Proponents of the bills say consumers should know what they eat, and they fear contamination of native fish stocks and organic produce and seeds. Opponents say that genetically modified foods are scientifically proven to be safe and that requiring special labeling will stigmatize the foods and cost consumers more.
Lawmakers in at least 12 other states are considering requirements for the labeling of foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients, according to the Center for Food Safety, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that supports the labeling of genetically engineered foods.
California voters in November narrowly rejected Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of genetically engineered food. A Washington ballot initiative proposes similar labeling requirements. The Washington Legislature could adopt the measure or let voters decide in November.
Businesses are taking note. Earlier this month, Whole Foods became the first national grocery chain to require the labeling of products that contain genetically modified materials. Company officials plan to phase in the requirement over five years.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve genetically engineered Atlantic salmon soon. That's a move that some Oregon lawmakers fear could threaten the local fishing industry and native Pacific salmon.
Holvey said he visited Atlantic salmon fish farms in Washington and British Columbia and grew concerned that those fish could escape into the wild.
"Our fisheries are extremely important to the economy," Holvey said. "If we allow the Pacific Northwest to become a mixed bag of Atlantic salmon and genetically engineered salmon, I think consumer confidence in Pacific salmon will be undermined and damage the industry."
If the bills requiring the labeling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients pass, it would be the first time a food is labeled based on the manner in which a plant is bred, said Scott Dahlman, executive director of Oregonians for Food & Shelter. The group represents about 3,000 farmers and opposes all of the bills on genetically engineered labeling, fish and crops.
"By the time it gets to food, there's no difference between a plant that was created through genetic engineering versus one that was created through conventional breeding," Dahlman said. "Genetically engineered foods have been found time and time again to be completely safe. Slapping a label on it would insinuate there was something wrong."
Oregon farmers already grow genetically modified corn, alfalfa and likely soy varieties, said Bruce Pokarney, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Farmers in the state can plant any genetically modified crops that have been approved by the federal government without state oversight, he said, and no labels are required.
The battle over genetically modified crops and seeds is especially ripe in Jackson County, where a measure on the May 2014 ballot would ban the growing of genetically engineered plants and allow the county to enforce it.
The Rogue River Valley is home to dozens of organic farmers, including Chuck Burr, who sells more than 200 varieties of organic seeds through his company, Restoration Seeds.
Last year, Burr said he destroyed about a tenth of an acre of rainbow chard after learning that a plot of genetically engineered sugar beets might have cross-pollinated his crops. The crop was worth about $4,400, Burr said, which would've covered property taxes on his 10-acre farm for the year.
"As a small farmer, that's a big deal," Burr said. "If a transgenetic trait gets into my crop, then I can't sell my crop as organic. It's no longer true to type, and I cannot market it, so I have to destroy the crop."
Under a bill introduced by Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, Burr could have sought compensation from the beet planter.
The science on long-term effects of genetically modified foods is mixed, Buckley said. "Anybody who says the science is black and white is not accurate," he said.
Buckley has also introduced a bill that would allow counties to establish control areas for commodities. It would allow the Jackson County ballot measure to move forward, he said.
A separate Senate bill would prevent the Jackson County ballot measure from reaching voters by designating the state as the authority to regulate seeds. The potential of having 36 counties each with different standards would create a "nightmare for compliance," said Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, one of the bill's sponsors. Kruse grows about 50 different crops on his family's 700-acre farm, including seedless watermelon and other cross-pollinated crops.
"There is not a crop grown on this planet that hasn't been genetically modified," said Kruse, who added that he doesn't grow any crops that most people would consider to be genetically engineered. "Anytime you cross-pollinate something, it's been genetically modified."