November 4, 2014 is slated to be a noteworthy day across the United States, with elections for state and federal legislative seats scheduled to be held around the country. However, in Oregon, voters are looking forward to yet another important event: the fate of Measure 92, which could make the state the first in the nation to pass a law requiring GMO products to be labeled at the ballot box.
Oregon is technically not the first to pass a law requiring agricultural products to announce whether they contain GMOs, or genetically modified organisms; for example, the Vermont Legislature approved a labeling bill which is set to begin in 2016. However, it is currently being challenged in court, making Oregon a potentially pivotal site for this controversial issue, which could help determine whether or not other states commit or abstain from labeling produce themselves. For this reason, funds and advertising campaigns for and against Measure 92 are flowing into the state, creating one of the costliest ballot measures in its history.
A yes vote for Measure 92 would require food manufacturers to label any packaged foods that have been genetically modified as either produced with genetic engineering or partially produced with genetic engineering. Retailers and suppliers of these products would then be required to include labels or add others. The only exceptions to this rule would be animal feed and restaurant foods. Proponents of this choice feel that this is a relatively inexpensive way to enlighten shoppers’ food choices, one which has the potential to help both consumers and society. In contrast, supporters of the no vote, which seeks to retain the existing law requiring no GMO labels, feel that labeling would burden farmers, manufacturers and consumers, in addition to stigmatizing Oregon’s agricultural products in a way no other state has yet experienced.
So far, supporters of Measure 92 mostly include organic food producers and non-profit organizations dedicated to food safety, as well as some small independent contributors. Together, this group has raised more than $5.4 million for the Yes on 92 Campaign. However, this pales in contrast to the $10 million that has reportedly been raised by chemical companies and large food and grocery manufacturers for the No on 92 Coalition.
One of the only things these disparate groups seem to agree on is the amount of misinformation and questions that surround the ballot, though their concerns obviously differ. Opponents, for example, question the decision to exclude labeling from restaurant food, as well as meat and dairy from animals that have been fed GMO diets. They also suggest that the need to separate GMO products from non-GMO products will create serious storage and transportation difficulties, which could result in hidden costs for both consumers and farmers. In response, proponents have pointed out that more than 60 countries already require GMO labeling, a factor which influenced some of the exemptions, and that current store practices used for separating organic and non-organic products would cover most of the necessary storage requirements.
However, a number of retailers and farmers inside and outside of Oregon seem to think the benefits outweigh any potential risks.
Currently, an established body of scientific research on the subject shows no potential threats to human health from consuming GMOs, which are commonly found in soy, corn and other agricultural products. However, as David Ervin, the chairman of a 2008 committee on GMO food safety, has stated in an interview with The Oregonian, the demonstrated safety of GMOs doesn’t mean giving consumers more information wouldn’t be helpful.
“My feeling is that, in general,” Ervin said, “if you can give consumers more information to help them make their decisions, that’s beneficial.”