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Colorado GMO Labeling Initiative Overcomes Challenge by Industry

(Beyond Pesticides, March 19, 2014) Ruling on a challenge by biotech industry interests, the Colorado Supreme Court on March 13 authorized the Right to Know Colorado ballot initiative to label GMO foods, clearing the way to begin collecting over 86,000 signatures needed for a 2014 statewide ballot measure. In overturning a major challenge by the biotech industry, pesticide, and grocery interests to a statewide GMO labeling ballot initiative, the Colorado State Supreme Court affirmed Colorado consumer’s right to determine whether the presence of genetically engineered foods should be labeled on food packaging.

TCORighttoKnowhe State Supreme Court ruling allows the Right to Know Colorado campaign, a grassroots effort established by local residents to achieve mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GE) ingredients ( commonly known as GMOs) in foods, to begin circulating petitions for signatures to place the initiative on the November 2014 ballot. Colorado requires 86,105 valid signatures to be submitted by early August to place an initiative on the ballot. Once on the ballot, Colorado will vote on whether labeling should be required for GE foods. The campaign plans to partner with local farmers, farmers markets, moms, faith-based organizations, natural, organic and non-GE food retailers, and other health, sustainability and consumer advocacy organizations to gather the signatures needed.

“We are pleased that the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the GMO labeling ballot title, and we look forward to bringing a GMO labeling initiative before the voters of Colorado this fall. Coloradans have the right to know what is in their food, and to make purchasing decisions for their families based on knowing whether their foods are genetically engineered, and we believe they will have that opportunity after November,” said Larry Cooper, one of the proponents of the Right to Know Colorado initiative.

To view the ballot title as approved by the Colorado Supreme Court, visit: https://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/Initiatives/titleBoard/results/2013-2014/48Results.html.

With no federal GE labeling requirements in place in the U.S., it is estimated that more than 80% of conventional processed foods contain genetically engineered ingredients from GE corn, soy, canola, cotton, sugar beets and other GE crops. However, according to national GMO labeling advocacy organization Just Label It, more than 90% of U.S. consumers surveyed want mandatory labeling of GE foods. While biotech interests claim that GE foods are safe, a growing body of scientific research suggests there may be enough risks to justify the need for consumer transparency. The European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia, and China, already require labeling for GE foods. Colorado joins several states, including Oregon, Maryland, Arizona, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, in considering measures for GMO labeling legislation so that consumers can make informed decisions about the food they eat. Connecticut and Maine have passed labeling laws with a trigger clause that puts the laws into effect when five surrounding states, including a contiguous state, adopts a similar measure.

Other GMO labeling Initiatives
Last week, Beyond Pesticides testified before the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee in the Maryland Senate in support of SB778, which requires that certain foods be labeled if more than 0.9% by weight of the food contains GE ingredients. In our testimony, Beyond Pesticides asserts that consumers want GE ingredients labeled because they understand GE crops are fundamentally different than their traditionally bred counterparts. In spite of this, consumers do not have access to the necessary information to know if their food contains GE ingredients. Unfortunately, this Maryland bill does not have broad legislator or state agency support, but is expected to initiate awareness and broad consumer support in the state.

Other efforts across the country to label GE food include a bill in Maine, “An act to protect Maine food consumers’ right to know about genetically engineered food and seed stock,” which was passed by the state legislature last summer and signed into law earlier this year. Before that, Connecticut passed a bill that requires food manufacturers to label products that contain GE ingredients, with a trigger clause that stipulates the law will only go into effect if five contiguous states approve a similar measure. This means people in Connecticut and other parts of the country will still have to wait to see GE labeling of their food. The New Hampshire legislature, on a second attempt, decided to study the issue and act again in 2015, after industry rallied against a labeling bill, SB 411. Oregon has also been actively tackling labeling efforts, and has so far introduced five bills on the issue. Most recently, bill HB 4011 was introduced in February 2014 and a ballot initiative will  be on the November ballot.

In Washington, attempts to pass  ballot measure I-522 was defeated by a GE-industry spending spree—opponents of the measure outspent supporters 3 to 1. Similar to California’s Proposition 37, voters narrowly rejected this ballot initiative by 2 percent. California’s Prop 37 would have required GE foods and processed food that contain GE ingredients to be labeled. However, efforts in California are not letting up. Last week, state representative Noreen Evans of Santa Rosa introduced California Senate Bill 1381, known as the “California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act” to her fellow congressional members in Sacramento. This bill is being touted as a “cleaner, simpler” version of Prop 37, which may help it gain wider support and advance it through the state legislature.

A national GE labeling bill also remains in both Houses of Congress, but has yet to be voted on in committee in either the Senate or the House. National GE labeling efforts are being spearheaded by the Just Label It! Campaign and has garnered thousands of supporters across the country. In the meantime, the best way to avoid food with GE ingredients is to buy organic. Under organic certification standards, GE organisms are prohibited. For this and many other reasons, organic products are the right choice for consumers. For more information on GE foods and labeling issues, see Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering website.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Press Release, Right to Know Colorado


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