Portland City Club Report Recommends “Yes” Vote on GMO Labeling Ballot Measure

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The City Club of Portland released a research report that recommends voters approve a ballot measure to require labeling “genetically engineered” food products, commonly known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The measure will appear on the November 4 ballot.

“The decision to support the measure hinges primarily on the principle that there is clear evidence that consumers have a variety of concerns related to the production and consumption of [genetically engineered]foods, and a lack of evidence substantiating the negative effects of labeling that opponents claim the measure would cause,” the report states.

During a four-month process, a committee of member-volunteers interviewed witnesses on both sides of the issue and reviewed dozens of relevant documents. The full draft report, which includes a witness list and complete bibliography, is available online at www.pdxcityclub.org/ballotmeasures-gmo.

The committee noted that food products already must carry several kinds of labels to assist consumers. It acknowledged that there will be a cost to consumers for labeling, but it concluded that the expected cost would be minimal compared to the much larger speculative estimates of opponents.

It also concluded that opposition concerns about stigmatization of genetically engineered food was similarly based on speculation.
With regard to both the cost of labeling and potential stigmatization, opponents lacked concrete evidence to support their claims.

“Our committee’s member-volunteers were very clear that they were not interested in taking a position on whether genetically engineered foods are good or bad,” said Committee Chair Elana Pirtle-Guiney. “Rather, they saw this measure as a clear issue of transparency and truth in labeling. Consumers in a free market deserve reasonable tools to make informed decisions.”

GMO labeling advocates say there are concerns about the safety and environmental impact of genetically engineered crops, and labels would help consumers distinguish products containing GMOs so they can avoid them if they wish.

But the move away from GMOs has upset the food and agriculture industries, including makers of genetically modified corn, soybeans, canola and other crops widely used in packaged foods. They say their products are safe and that mandatory labels will confuse consumers and increase costs.

Scott Dahlman, executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter, said in a statement he expected a broad base of opposition if the initiative qualified. Oregonians voted against GMO labeling in 2002.
“This is a costly and misleading initiative that would hurt thousands of Oregon family farmers and small store owners, cost Oregon taxpayers millions of dollars and increase grocery bills for Oregon families by hundreds of dollars each year,” he said.

Voters in two small Oregon counties in May approved ballot measures to ban the cultivation of genetically engineered crops within their boundaries. Kaushik said those votes showed there was widespread interest and concern over GMOs.

“People feel like they have a right to know whether the food they’re buying in grocery stores for their families is engineered in a lab or not,” he said.

Consumer sentiment has pushed a growing number of U.S. food companies to start using non-genetically modified ingredients because of the consumer backlash against GMOs. Vermont in May became the first state to mandate GMO labeling.

Current Oregon law does not require labeling of “genetically engineered” food. Measure requires retailers of genetically-engineered raw food to include “Genetically Engineered” on packages, display bins, or shelves; suppliers must label shipping containers. The measure requires manufacturers of packaged food produced entirely or partially by genetic engineering to include Produced with Genetic Engineering or Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering on packages.

It defines genetically engineered food as food produced from organisms with genetic material changed through in vitro nucleic acid techniques and certain cell-fusing techniques; exempts traditional plant-breeding techniques like hybridization. It does not apply to animal feed or food served in restaurants.

A Yes vote on the measure requires the labeling of raw and packaged foods produced entirely or partially by “genetic engineering,” effective January 2016; applies to retailers, suppliers, manufacturers.
A No vote retains existing law, which does not require “genetically engineered” food to be labeled as such.

According to Reuters opponents of mandatory labeling for foods made with genetically modified organisms spent more than $27 million in the first six months of this year on GMO-related lobbying, roughly three times their spending in all of 2013, according to an analysis released Wednesday.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and major food makers such as Coca-Cola Co and PepsiCo Inc and top biotech seed makers Monsanto Co and DuPont were among heavy spenders on GMO labeling-related lobbying, among other food issues, according to a report issued by the Environmental Working Group.

The group analyzed lobbying disclosure forms that cited labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) along with other policy issues.

All told, the opponents of GMO labeling disclosed $15.2 million in lobbying expenditures for the second quarter of 2014, bringing the six-month total for 2014 to $27.5 million. That compared with $9.3 million reported in 2013, according to EWG, a Washington-based nonprofit that supports GMO labeling.

In contrast, supporters of GMO labeling disclosed $1.9 million in lobbying expenditures for the first half of 2014, up slightly from $1.6 million spent in 2013.

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