Voters across Colorado and Oregon and in Maui County, Hawaii, will weigh in on biotech-related ballot measures at the polls next week. Colorado and Oregon will consider labeling measures, while Maui County voters will face a proposal to adopt a moratorium on the use of GMO seeds.
“All three ballot measures are a threat to biotechnology and its many benefits to farmers, consumers and the environment,” said Andrew Walmsley, American Farm Bureau Federation biotechnology specialist. “These ballot initiatives will only create more bureaucracy and make people afraid of the food grown in these states and elsewhere across the country.”
Another point of concern is the cost of complying with state-by-state labeling laws.
“A vote in favor of any of these initiatives is a vote in support of higher grocery bills because food companies will inevitably pass these labeling compliance costs onto consumers,” Walmsley cautioned.
GMO foods have been deemed safe by USDA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association and major scientific and health organizations worldwide.
“The FDA has determined there is no nutritional or material difference between food ingredients made from GMO plant varieties and their conventional counterparts,” Walmsley pointed out. “So any label indicating GMO ingredients would not only be unnecessary, it would lead many consumers to wrongly believe there’s something wrong with food produced using GMOs.”
Colorado’s Proposition 105 asserts that “consumers have the right to know if the food they are consuming has been genetically modified.”
If approved, any genetically modified foods would be required to be labeled “Produced With Genetic Engineering” starting on July 1, 2016. Animal feed, meat from animals that ate genetically modified foods, alcoholic beverages and medically prescribed foods would be among the products exempted from the labeling law.
Proposition 105 is “so badly written and so full of exemptions that [the required labels] would not really tell customers which foods are made with GMOs and which aren’t,” said Don Shawcroft, president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, which has joined dozens of other organizations to form the Coalition Against the Misleading Labeling Initiative.
Similarly, Oregon Farm Bureau is a key figure in the No on 92 Coalition, which was formed to oppose a statewide GMO labeling initiative, Measure 92. If Measure 92 passes, beginning Jan. 1, 2016, all raw food and packaged food that is entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering must be labeled as such and is otherwise misbranded if that fact is not disclosed.
Specifically, raw food would have to carry a label that includes the words “Genetically Engineered.” Packaged foods would be labeled “Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.”
The measure would require farmers and food producers to separate, re-package, and re-label their products unless they are specially re-made with higher-priced ingredients just for Oregon, warns the Oregon Farm Bureau. The costly new bureaucratic requirements would impact farmers whether or not they grow biotech crops.
Voters in California and Washington rejected similar ballot initiatives in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
In Maui County, voters will decide whether to adopt a “Moratorium of the Cultivation of Genetically Engineered Organisms,” affecting two local biotech seed farms that contribute tens of millions to Maui’s economy and employ hundreds of local residents, according to Chris Manfredi, Hawaii Farm Bureau president.
If approved, the measure would indefinitely prohibit any growth, testing or cultivation of genetically modified or engineered crops until environmental and public health studies declare the practices “safe and harmless.” While ignoring numerous existing studies, the measure includes severe fines and prison time for anyone who grows even one Rainbow papaya (a variety genetically modified to resist the ubiquitous and devastating ring spot virus).
“Although the endless flow of propaganda confounds the issues, we are hopeful that people in Hawaii and on the mainland will choose to support farmers by allowing us continued access to the tools we need to keep on farming,” Manfredi said in a recent Focus onAgriculture column.