PORTLAND May 15 Activists seeking a tighter
rein on genetically modified foods said on Thursday they planned
to push ahead with a signature-gathering campaign to force a
measure onto the ballot in left-leaning Oregon to require
labeling on such products.
Oregon Right to Know said it was gathering signatures to get
its measure on the November ballot as the fight over genetically
modified food heats up in Oregon, where voters in one county
will decide next week whether to ban modified plants entirely.
"It's going to be a major effort," said Sandeep Kaushik,
spokesman for campaign organizer Oregon Right to Know. "We
believe that people have a right to know what's in the food they
eat and feed their family."
The group needs 87,213 signatures by July 3 to get its
measure on the ballot, which if it passes would require labeling
of products containing genetically modified ingredients, aimed
at making them resistant to disease and insects, to begin in
Consumer groups and lawmakers supporting mandatory labeling
say there are concerns about the safety and the environmental
impacts of genetically engineered crops, and labels would help
consumers distinguish products containing GMOs so they can avoid
them if they wish.
The consumer sentiment has pushed a growing number of U.S.
food companies to start using non-genetically modified
ingredients for their products because of the consumer backlash
against GMOs. Vermont earlier this month became the first state
to mandate GMO labeling.
But the move away from GMOs has upset the food and
agriculture industries, including makers of genetically modified
corn, soybeans, canola and other crops widely used in packaged
foods. They say their products are safe, and that mandatory
labels will confuse consumers and increase costs.
The Oregon labeling campaign also comes as one rural farming
community in southern Oregon is due to decide during a primary
ballot next Tuesday whether to ban genetically engineered plants
Katie Fast, vice president of public policy for the Oregon
Farm Bureau, said her organization was opposed to both a GMO ban
as well as local or state labeling requirements although
it supports a national effort for voluntary labeling.
Patrick McCormick, who worked as a spokesman in opposition
to a 2002 Oregon campaign to require GMO labeling, said labeling
opponents would likely focus in part on potential cost burdens,
but also cast doubt on the benefit of such a requirement.
"In the end, they don't provide meaningful information to
the consumers on the product," he said.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)