Last week, voters in Washington state rejected a ballot measure that would have required foods produced entirely or partly through genetic engineering to be labeled as such when offered for retail sale in that state.

If you think the defeat is the last you’ll be hearing about GMO labeling, think again: A measure similar to Washington’s Ballot Initiative 522 seems almost certain to land on Oregon ballots, possibly as early as next year.

GMO regulations in Oregon were in the spotlight during the recent special session of the Oregon Legislature. You’ll recall that the “grand bargain” of bills passed during the session included a measure prohibiting local governments from regulating genetically modified crops.

Despite the fact that Gov. John Kitzhaber signed that bill, the idea of restrictions on GMOs continues to percolate. In Benton County, for example, GMO foes continue to try to get a county-wide initiative on the ballot.

The battle over the Washington state initiative turned out to be the most expensive ever waged in that state over a ballot measure, with some estimates suggesting that nearly $30 million was spent — most of it, as you might imagine, from the opposition.

At first glance, Initiative 522 (modeled in part on a California proposal that also failed) appeared to be bad public policy, for a variety of reasons.

First, the measure was loaded down with exemptions that for all intents and purposes watered the initiative down to the point of meaninglessness.

For example, food served in restaurants would have been exempt. Cheeses were exempt as well. Even proponents of the measure said that some foods without GMO content would carry warning labels and some foods with GMO content would be unlabeled, which undoubtedly left many Washington voters wondering what the point was.

In addition, the initiative — which would have authorized state enforcement and civil penalties and private enforcement actions — almost certainly would have resulted in increased costs, and you know who would have ended up paying that tab.

We continue to think that a better option is to let the free market take its course: If a market niche exists for non-GMO foods — and we think it almost certainly does — let food producers proudly boast that on their own labels.

The battle over GMO foods in Washington state is shaping up as an early skirmish in a broader campaign. The next theater of battle could well be

Oregon.

(2) comments

TheRealJules

Anyone who thinks that their "non-GMO corn" resembles the original maize that it came from is a looney. They're ignoring centuries of genetic engineering that have been applied to our foods to give better yields and environmental resistance. Even before Mendel came up with the idea of genes people have been modifying their plants.

Rice that grows better in salt water feeds a huge number of people. Corn that survives on less water. Pot that produces more THC. Winter wheat, summer wheat. Man has modified his foods to be bigger, better, more throughout history. If the non-GMO advocates want to revert to original foods because they abhor man's intervention, I'm sure they can do so. As for me and my family, we'll enjoy the bounty of modern agriculture and know that many more people are being fed today because of it.

jonr

I consider the risk of GMO, pretty much the same risk as corporate farming, loss of native species, and highly processed food in general. I hope Oregon does pass a labeling bill so others can learn from it (it's benefits and costs). Personally, I don't think all of us should pay for what some want. If the market place thinks people want non GMO...let them buy those products and pay the imbedded costs of supplier management (audits, follow up, documentation etc).

While "transparency" sounds good, I will note the organic industry is not transparent in their data (testing, pesticide residues are allowed, higher potential of bio contamination). Should they be held to the a similar transparecy standard.

I consider my gmo risk to be orders of magnitude less than other risks in my life...way down on the old risk o meter.

all just food for thought...so to speak

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