GENTECH archive


Oregon and the GM labelling ballot

Chicago Tribune
November 10, 2002
Round 1 defeats rules for labeling gene-altered food
By Bob Condor.

Voters made all sorts of decisions in the last week that will resonate for
two, four or six years, depending on the term and elected office. In
Oregon, residents faced an even more futuristic issue.

Oregon Measure 27 was a referendum on a proposal that genetically modified
foods sold or produced in the state be clearly identified on labeling. It
was resoundingly defeated Tuesday by more than 70 percent of voters, but
its supporters vowed to keep the movement alive. Though the ballot measure
didn't cultivate enough voter support, most observers recognize Oregon as
fertile testing ground. It should be noted that Oregon was a forerunner in
the organic-food movement, creating growing standards and shaping consumer
attitudes long before the federal government installed its new organic
regulations last month.

Food researcher Carl Winter laughed when it was that suggested Measure 27
could be introduced "only in Oregon." Then Winter quickly added that "a
number of California firms funded the Oregon initiative" to gauge
awareness of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

"It is good thing for consumers to be aware of GMOs," said Winter, a food
toxicologist and professor with the University of California at Davis.
"The issue is complicated. GMOs and biotechnology have the potential to
revolutionize our food systems. We just don't yet if that is an exciting
or scary proposition."

It is estimated that as much as 70 percent of processed foods in the
United States contain some genetically altered or genetically engineered
ingredient, typically some component of corn, soybeans or canola oil.

Where the complications in labeling begin is whether, say, the GMO corn
allows for a plant that doesn't require pesticides or maybe one that can
be sprayed with herbicides to kill weeds but not the crop (because the
introduced genetic material isn't affected by the herbicide).

The only way to avoid unwanted possibilities is to select foods that claim
to be "GMO-free" or "USDA organic" on packages. For Winter, the scientific
debate about GMOs is far from settled.

"No one can prove or disprove GMOs cause any legitimate health or safety
concerns," he explained. "The bigger issue [for the anti-GMO movement] is
distrust of industries producing these foods and the regulating government
bodies. There is a major concern that a large percentage of our food
supply will be controlled by a small number of multinational

John Robbins is a food and environmental activist best known for his 1971
book "Diet for a Small Planet." He was among the first Americans to
question the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock and pesticides in

"These big companies really, really want to defeat Measure 27," Robbins
said, "because California is the next domino."

Robbins said about 30 other countries have passed GMO labeling laws--why
is Europe always ahead on these issues?--but prices haven't been
noticeably increased because of it. The major objection among the business
community is the increased cost of providing GMO labels and required

Apparently, a number of agribusiness firms aren't so willing to give in to
non-GMO forces. The "Vote No on Measure 27" organization raised nearly $5
million late in the campaign to blitz the airwaves with commercials. The
pro-labeling Concerned Citizens group said Monsanto has been a major
contributor. Before the ad campaign, at least one survey showed the "Vote
Yes" group to be leading by 20 percentage points.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Lester M. Crawford weighed in on
the issue in early October. He wrote a letter to Oregon state officials
stating "mandatory labeling to disclose that a product was produced
through genetic engineering does not promote the public health in that it
fails to provide material facts concerning the safety or nutritional
aspects of food and may be misleading to consumers."

For Carl Winter and other food scientists, the safety issue demands more
study. Until then, the father of two grade-school sons doesn't fret much
about GMOs and buys organic more for variety at the Davis farmers' market.
He does recommend thorough scrubbing of all produce and worries about the
"thousands of farm workers in California with illnesses and injuries from
handling pesticides."

"The most important point is people need to be eating lots of fruits,
vegetables and grains," Winter said. "Research shows a diet high in these
foods protects against heart disease and many cancers. That message gets
lost too often in the arguments about organic foods and GMOs."


Oregon  Measure 27 died in big-dollar blitz             

Measure 27 died in big-dollar blitz

The Oregoonian (Portland) 11/10/02

In  early  October,  almost  two-thirds  of  Oregon voters supported a 
measure   requiring   the  labeling  of  genetically  modified  foods, 
according to at least one poll. Before the month was out, polls showed 
more than two-thirds wouldn't vote for it. And on Tuesday, most people 


Opponents  shelled  out $4.5 million on advertising in the three weeks 
between the polls, that's what.

Supporters  of  Measure  27  spent  about  $200,000 in their effort to 
convince  voters  that  Oregon  should  be  the  first  state to label 
genetically modified foods. Opponents spent about $5.5 million to kill the  
idea,  tying  the  record  for  the  most  money ever spent on an 
initiative campaign in Oregon.

"If the other side isn't spending any money, their chances are as good as  
if  the  49ers  took the field against a high school football team made  
up  of  kids whose left legs are all broken," said Bill Lunch, a political 
science professor at Oregon State University.

Proponents  of  labeling  genetically  modified foods say Tuesday's 71 
percent  to  29  percent vote has not discouraged them from continuing 
their  campaign  to  identify  genetically  modified  foods.  They say 
they'll  be back with another ballot initiative. They're also lobbying 
Congress and working in other states.

But Joseph Mendelson, legal director for the Center for Food Safety in 
Washington,  D.C.,  said  they  were  all "sort of taken aback" by the 
millions of dollars spent to defeat Measure 27 in Oregon this year.

A  coalition backed by the biotech, grocery and agriculture industries 
spent about $6.35 for every "no" vote cast against Measure 27.

The deep-pocket campaign by outside interests shouldn't have come as a 
surprise  in  a  small state that insists on testing new ideas through its  
initiative  system.  Pharmaceutical firms, tobacco companies, the adult  
entertainment  industry  and  a long list of others have poured millions 
into the state to influence past Oregon initiative elections, said  Fred  
Neal,  campaign  finance  manager  at  the state Elections Division.

That's because "little, old Oregon can set a trend or a precedent that 
some folks might want to nip in the bud," Neal said.

The  last  initiative  campaign  to  top  $5 million was in 1986, when 
Portland General Electric, along with a consortium of utilities, spent 
about  $5.5  million  to  defeat  a  measure intended to shut down the 
Trojan  nuclear power plant 40 miles north of Portland. The initiative 
failed,  but  PGE did close Trojan in 1993, nearly two decades earlier 
than planned.


In  1996,  the  tobacco industry outspent its opponents by a 7-1 ratio 
when  it  put  $4.8  million  into  a  campaign  to  defeat a proposed 
cigarette tax increase. Oregon voters approved the higher tax.

But  OSU's Bill Lunch  said if one side is flooding airwaves and mailboxes 
with  ads  and  the  other  side  is  essentially  silent,  as in this 
election, the advertised point of view prevails.

"We  were  a  faint  voice  in  the  forest compared to the resounding 
thunder  of commercials playing on every radio and TV station 10 to 12 
times  a day," said Mel Bankoff, who put $120,000 into the pro-Measure 27 

Bankoff accuses opponents of scaring voters by telling them food costs 
would increase about $550 a year for a family of four.

Pat McCormick, spokesman for No on Measure 27, stands by the projected 
food  costs.  And  he  said  his  side  had  no choice but to mount an 
aggressive campaign.

About  70 percent of the processed foods on U.S. grocery store shelves 
contain  some  kind of genetically modified ingredient. The technology 
involves  removing a gene from the DNA strand of one organism, such as a  
plant  or  animal,  and  inserting  it  into  another to transfer a 
desirable trait.

Early polls showed support for Measure 27, and opponents knew this was the  
first  state where voters would be confronted with a choice about the 
labeling of genetically modified foods, McCormick said.

What's  more,  Oregon's  vote-by-mail  system  means "We don't have an 
Election  Day  anymore.  We have an election fortnight," he said. "You 
have to peak sooner and sustain longer."

Donna  Harris,  who  started  working  in  2000 to put a food labeling 
initiative  on  the  Oregon ballot, said she will be back in 2004. She 
also is forming a national political action committee to offer support and  
advice to others who want to launch labeling initiatives in their states.

"While  we  were doing this campaign," she said, "people from all over the 
nation kept calling us and e-mailing us and saying, 'How can we do this in 
our state?' "

On  Wednesday,  just  hours  after Measure 27's overwhelming defeat in 
Oregon,  the  Center  for  Food Safety released a poll indicating that 
88.5   percent   of  U.S.  consumers  support  mandatory  labeling  of 
genetically  modified  food.  The  Center  for  Food Safety belongs to 
GEFoodAlert,  a coalition of health, consumer and environmental groups 
pushing  for  the  removal  of genetically engineered ingredients from 
U.S. grocery store shelves unless they are safety tested and labeled.

If  corporations  continue  to  wage  the battle against labeling with 
Brink's  trucks, there's a good chance voters will rebel, the center's 
Mendelson said.

"We  think Oregon was probably the first step and by no means the last 
one," he said. "The success that Oregon had was to get the issue out."
	Janie  Har of The Oregonian staff contributed to this report. 
Michelle Cole: 503-294-5143;


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