Oregon activists submit signatures for GMO measure

Of the Associated Press

PORTLAND — Proponents of a ballot measure to require the labeling of genetically modified foods in Oregon said Wednesday they're turning in more than 155,000 signatures — far more than needed to qualify the measure for a statewide vote in November.

The secretary of state's office will count and verify the signatures. The initiative needs just over 87,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

If adopted, the initiative by Oregon GMO Right to Know would require manufacturers, retailers and suppliers to label raw and packaged foods produced entirely or partially by genetic engineering. The measure would not apply to animal feed or food served in restaurants. It would be effective January 2016.

Signature-gathering is also underway in Colorado and in Arizona to put up similar labeling measures.

The U.S. currently does not require the labeling of genetically engineered foods. Labeling ballot measures in California and in Washington state failed in recent years. A GMO labeling measure was also defeated in Oregon in 2002.

But legislators in three states — Vermont, Maine and Connecticut — enacted laws that require labeling of genetically modified organisms, though those won't go into effect until other states in the region follow suit. Counties in Oregon, Hawaii, Washington state and California have also adopted laws banning or limiting genetically modified organisms.

There are currently 85 bills on GMO labeling in 30 states, with more than half introduced this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as well as dueling bills in Congress.

Labeling proponents say too much is still unknown about GMO's, so consumers have a right to know if they are eating them.

Backers of the initiative have so far raised $1.16 million, including donations from Mercola.com Health Resources, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and the Organic Consumers Fund.

“We're really excited by the level of grassroots enthusiasm,” said Sandeep Kaushik, spokesman of Oregon GMO Right to Know.

Critics say mandatory labels would mislead consumers into thinking that engineered ingredients are unsafe, which scientists have not proven to be true.

“This is a costly and misleading initiative that would hurt thousands of Oregon family farmers and small store owners, cost Oregon taxpayers millions of dollars and increase grocery bills for Oregon families by hundreds of dollars each year,” said Scott Dahlman, executive director of Oregonians for Food & Shelter.

Dahlman said if the initiative qualifies for the ballot, he expects a wide coalition to oppose it.

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