Election 2014: GMO Labeling Initiatives Defeated, but Momentum Continues

Election 2014: GMO Labeling Initiatives Defeated, but Momentum Continues

Results are in on a pair of hotly-debated and costly ballot initiatives – both seeking to introduce mandatory labeling requirements for products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) at the state level.    

Earlier this week, voters in Colorado and Oregon took to the polls to decide whether processed foods and raw agricultural products containing GMOs would need to be identified as being produced with genetically modified ingredients.  Proposition 105, the Colorado initiative, failed by a significant margin, with over two-thirds of Colorado voters rejecting the measure. The race on Measure 92, the Oregon initiative, was initially too close to call.  However voters ultimately rejected the initiative by a narrow margin of 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent after the most expensive ballot issue campaign in Oregon’s history. Voters opposing both measures largely cited concerns about higher food costs as their reason for voting against them.  

GMOs are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered through combinations of genes that cannot occur naturally or through traditional crossbreeding, typically to build resistance to pathogens and herbicides or to increase yields.  According to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, a high percentage of food crops grown in the United States, such corn and soy, are genetically modified.  Although there is currently no evidence to suggest GMOs are unsafe to consume, GMO opponents have criticized their widespread use and advocated for labeling of GMO products based on uncertainty about their long-term health consequences, their promotion of pesticide and herbicide use and their potential adverse environmental impact.  More than 60 other countries around the world, including all of the countries of the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, China and India currently require special labeling on products containing GMOs.   

There is currently no federal law mandating GMO labeling in the U.S.. However, there have been concerted efforts to introduce labeling requirements at the federal and state level apart from the recent initiatives in Oregon and Colorado, which are only the latest efforts in the fight for GMO labeling. GMO labeling initiatives have previously been on the ballot in California and Washington, although they were not successful.  Connecticut and Maine recently enacted conditional measures requiring GMO labeling, which would go into effect if a critical mass of neighboring states adopt similar requirements.  Vermont is currently the only state that has passed a law mandating GMO labeling outright.  Although the Vermont statute was just passed earlier this year and is already being challenged in federal court, lawmakers in the state are proceeding with enacting rules and regulations in advance of the July 1, 2016 effective date. A number of GMO labeling bills are also currently pending in several state legislatures across the country.