THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
June 25, 2002
FOOD LABELING INITIATIVE APPEARS HEADED FOR NOVEMBER BALLOT
Backers of a statewide initiative that would require labeling of all genetically engineered food sold in Oregon say they have collected more than 84,000 signatures, which will likely be enough to get the item on the November ballot.
Signatures gathered in support of the proposal need to be delivered to the Secretary of State's office by July 5. Roughly 67,000 valid signatures are required to qualify for the ballot. Labels saying "Genetically Engineered" also would be required for food additives and packaging that have a genetically modified origin.
"It's a consumer's right-to-know issue basically," said Kate Lord, co-chief petitioner with the Oregon Concerned Citizens for Safe Food.
Genetically engineered foods are produced by identifying and selecting genes with desired traits in plants, animals, bacteria or viruses, and transferring them into the DNA of a host organism.
Examples include corn containing genes from bacteria that make the corn resistant to insects, or soy beans containing genes from bacteria that make the plant resistant to Round Up, a widely used herbicide.
Proponents say the process increases crop protection and yields, and reduces production costs.
"I think the main thing is that they're turning out to be saving on the amount of pesticides being used," said Terri Lomax, an Oregon State University professor of botany specializing in biotechnology issues.
The process by which a potentially marketable biotech plant is developed takes several years and millions of dollars and is overseen by a trio of federal agencies.
Still, some people are not convinced that so-called "frankenfoods" are safe. Nor are they aware that they probably consume them, unlabeled, on a regular basis.
Joan Riley, emerging from a Salem health store, said she was shocked to learn that about 70 percent of processed foods on store shelves contain some component from GMOs.
"What Pandora's Box are we opening?" said Riley, an administrative assistant with the Oregon Department of Human Services....
Ron McKay, administrator of ODA's Food Safety Division, said the agency does not yet know what costs might arise if voters approve the ballot measure.
"We're reviewing it," he said....
Several other states are pushing similar initiatives this year, including Washington, California and Colorado.