Monsanto & Allies Spending Millions to Stop Oregon Labeling Initiative

BY: Bill Lambrecht Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau


Warning of a "biotech police force," an industry alliance is waging a
multimillion-dollar campaign to defeat an Oregon ballot proposition to
require labeling of genetically modified food.

St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. and its allies in the biotech and food
industries have set a spending target of $6 million for the campaign against
the labeling initiative, according to industry sources. That's 40 times the
$150,000 the pro-labeling forces say they will spend.

The proposition is the first labeling measure to appear on a state ballot.
But it might not be the last, which is an unappetizing prospect for the food
and biotech industries, which say labeling would mean higher food bills for
consumers. At least 70 percent of processed food on U.S. grocery shelves
contains engineered ingredients. Supporters of labeling say the industry is
exaggerating the costs and that, in any case, consumers want to know what's
in the food they buy.

The labeling of food with genetically modified ingredients has been a
contentious issue around the world, with several countries mandating labels
at the insistence of environmental and consumer advocates. That hasn't
happened in the United States, where the Food and Drug Administration says
engineered food is no different than conventional food and so needs no
labels that reveal details of production.

Far-reaching plan

In Oregon, Measure 27 would require that the packaging of any food or drink
that contains as little as 0.1 percent of genetically modified ingredients
contain information telling consumers the nature of the altered contents.
For instance, if corn chips were produced from plants engineered with a
bacteria to ward off insects, consumers would have to receive such

Oregon's far-reaching proposal also calls for labeling of food prepared with
genetically engineered enzymes – including some cheese products – and meat
and dairy products from livestock fed genetically modified grains.
The proposition was conceived by Donna Harris, a Portland woman who said she
became intrigued while listening to a radio report about experiments in
which fish genes were engineered into tomatoes.

"I said I'm going to check this out for myself. So I went to the grocery
store, and there wasn't one label that that identified genetically modified
ingredients in food," she recalled.

Now that she and other labeling supporters have obtained the necessary
66,000 signatures to place the initiative on the ballot, Harris said, she
believes her measure can win because of people's demand to know what's in
their food.

"As a consumer, we should have a choice in the food we eat," she said.
"Gathering signatures, I had people tell me that they are less concerned
about moving DNA around than about not being allowed to know about it."

European nations, Japan and Australia are among countries that have imposed
labeling. In Russia, the latest country to mandate labels, a rule that went
into effect this month requires food products with more than 5 percent of
genetically modified ingredients to say so on food packaging.
The European Parliament voted in July to lower the labeling threshold in
member countries from 1 percent to 0.5 percent – still five times higher
than the threshhold Oregon voters will decide on.

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