7, 2002, Reuters via CropChoice News
By Deborah Cohen and Carey Gillam, Reuters
The overwhelming defeat of an Oregon measure
on Tuesday that would have required labeling of genetically
modified foods dealt a sharp blow to consumer groups
battling the biotech movement.
A coalition of corporate giants including chemical makers
Monsanto Co. <MON.N> and DuPont Co. <DD.N>
and food producers like General Mills Inc. <GIS.N>
and H.J. Heinz <HNZ.N> spent some $5.5 million to
defeat the measure in the state, which is often at the
forefront of progressive issues.
Supporters of the initiative said on Wednesday they had
formed a national group to fight corporations opposed
to labeling, but industry watchers said the issue faces
an uphill battle in the United States, where it has been
slow to gain momentum.
"Consumers have never been energized on this issue,"
said Art Jaeger, a spokesman for Consumer Federation of
America, which supports labeling efforts. "These
battles are all vigorously opposed by a fairly deep-pocket
More than 70 percent of Oregon's voters rejected the broadly
worded initiative, Ballot Measure 27, which would have
required all processed foods sold in the state containing
gene-spliced ingredients such as corn, wheat and soy,
and even milk produced by cows eating those feeds, to
be identified on product packaging.
Corporate opponents of mandatory labeling attacked the
law on the basis that more than 70 percent of the food
found on grocery store shelves already contains some genetically
modified material. Labeling every candy bar, bag of chips
or jar of mayonnaise produced with gene-spliced crops
would cost millions of dollars in compliance and regulation,
"This measure goes above and beyond anything we've
seen before on labeling requirements," said Stephanie
Childs, a spokeswoman for the Grocery Manufacturers of
America, whose members include U.S. food companies and
groceries. "When put to the test, consumers reject
A more reasonable approach, opponents said, is choosing
foods that don't contain genetically modified organisms,
or GMOs -- a choice they believe is now available to U.S.
consumers through new federal labeling requirements on
organic foods that took effect last month.
"If you couldn't get something like this to have
at least some life in a state like Oregon, there's really
little chance that it will have the chance to go far any
place else," said Pat McCormick, whose group, Coalition
Against the Costly Labeling Law, ran the opposition to
the Oregon measure on behalf of major companies.
Closing the barn door
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, one of the regulatory
agencies that oversee GMO foods, criticized the proposed
law last month, saying biotech crops on the market have
been found to be safe.
In a letter to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, FDA Deputy
Commissioner Lester Crawford said the law if passed could
"impermissibly interfere" with marketing by
the food industry and violate rules governing interstate
Genetic modification of plants, a rapidly increasing practice
in the last decade, involves extracting a gene from the
DNA of a plant or animal and transferring it to another
to create a desirable trait such as resistance to disease.
Currently the bulk of the GMO plants grown in the United
States have been modified to resist herbicide. Soybeans
are the largest GMO crop, with more than 75 percent of
this year's U.S. crop genetically modified.
Despite governmental and scientific assurances that GMO
foods on the market pose no risk, critics say the potential
for health and environmental problems exists.
"They are causing contamination and cross-pollination
problems in agriculture that may have serious economic
impact for farmers," said Katherine DiMatteo, who
heads the Organic Trade Association, a group that represents
organic food makers.
Americans have been slow to take up the GMO debate, which
has raged across Europe and elsewhere for several years.
Some 19 countries now require labeling for GMOs.
Major food makers like PepsiCo <PEP.N> and Sara
Lee Corp. <SLE.N> have faced shareholder votes seeking
bans on the use of GMO foods in their products. But so
far, these initiatives have been overwhelming defeated.
Activists in a handful of states, including California,
Washington and Colorado, have tried to pass labeling laws
similar to the Oregon proposal, but with no luck.
Yet far from being discouraged, the Oregon grassroots
group that pushed the labeling initiative said the battle
would go on. It has founded a national organization, "Labeling
for US," to work with other states for mandatory
"A lot of people do want labeling but they want it
to be consistent across the U.S.," said Donna Harris,
who headed the Oregon campaign.
Leaders of Oregon GM labeling plan
promise to bring issue back in 2004
PORTLAND, OREGON - AP: Oregon voters
overwhelmingly rejected an initiative to make the state
the first in the country to require labeling of genetically
Only 27 percent of Oregon voters supported the voter-sponsored
initiative on Tuesday's ballot, compared with 73 percent
who voted against it, according to results from 61 percent
of precincts in the northwestern state.
``One of the things we said from the beginning was the
more people know about it, the less they like it,'' said
Pat McCormick, a public relations executive in charge
of a $5 million media campaign funded by the biotechnology
industry against the proposal. ``We knew if we could provide
them that basic information, it would be much less likely
they would support the measure.''
Donna Harris, who led the campaign to put the initiative
on the ballot, said she would bring the issue back again
``The opposition has been very good teachers,'' she said.
``We're definitely going to use what we learned when we
file the next initiative,'' said Harris, a mother of two
and former hospital secretary whose desire to find a baby
formula free of genetically altered ingredients led to
Opponents raised more than $5.2 million from companies
that manufacture genetically engineered food and seed,
such as Monsanto, DuPont and Kraft, and launched a media
Supporters scraped together less than $200,000 and have
been all but absent from the airwaves.
Early public support for the measure diminished rapidly
as the opposition organized by the Grocery Manufacturers
of America broadcast TV ads featuring a grocer drowning
in red tape, a farmer fearful about the future, and a
doctor assuring people genetically engineered foods are
Around the world, 19 countries require such labeling,
and the European Union has banned the sale of any new
engineered products since 1988. The EU is expected to
lift the ban later this year, but may require labeling.
In United States, such labeling is not required. About
a dozen varieties of soy beans, corn and tomatoes genetically
altered to resist pests, frost and weed killers have been
approved for human consumption and are common ingredients
in processed food.
Kathleen Merrigan, director of Tufts University's Agriculture,
Food and Environment Program, said the labeling trend
is growing along with consumer demand for organic foods.
``Look at the organic experience as the tip of the iceberg,''