The defeat of twin measures in Oregon and Colorado that would have required labeling of foods made with genetically modified ingredients sets the stage for a battle over the issue in the nation's capital, both sides of the debate said on Wednesday.
The Oregon measure lost 49 to 51 percent, according to unofficial results reported by the Oregon Secretary of State's Office on Wednesday, while voters in Colorado rejected labeling by a margin of 66 percent to 34 percent.
"The GMO labeling discussion deserves a national solution," Jim Greenwood, chief executive officer of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), said in a statement. BIO's membership includes biotech seed companies.
"We will continue to explore policies that provide consumers with information about the foods we eat," he said.
Scott Faber, executive director of the Just Label It national advocacy organization, said the labeling losses in Oregon and Colorado will not set back consumer demands for the right to know if the food they buy contains GMOs.
"The fight will shift to the nation's capitol," Faber said in a statement.
Labeling proponents are pursuing a federal mandate for labeling of GMO foods, while labeling opponents are backing a proposed law that would nullify any mandatory labeling laws, including one approved by Vermont lawmakers earlier this year.
The outcome at the polls comes after corporate food and agriculture interests put $36 million into anti-labeling campaigns in the two states. The same group, which includes the biotech seed and chemical companies Monsanto and DuPont, helped defeat labeling measures in California and Washington state in 2012 and 2013.
Backers of labeling mustered only $8 million in Oregon and $895,000 in Colorado to campaign for passage.
Labeling proponents say GMOs carry risks for humans and the environment, and consumers should know if the foods they buy contain them. But opponents say GMOs have been proven safe and that mandatory labeling would be costly and confusing for consumers.
Voters in Hawaii's Maui County also took up GMO issues, approving a ban on the growing of GMO crops by a margin of 50 to 48 percent.
The measure imposes a temporary moratorium on genetically engineered crops until certain environmental and public health studies are conducted.
Both Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical, have GMO crop operations in Maui County.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Mo.; Editing by Peter Cooney and Eric Beech)