States Reject GMO Scares

Published November 25, 2014

Voters in two states, Colorado and Oregon, defeated GMO labeling at the ballot box in the November elections. This is the third year in a row activists who want labels identifying genetically modified foods have lost state initiatives and referenda.

Voters rejected Colorado’s Proposition 105 with 67 percent of the vote. Measure 92 in Oregon was a much closer race, with 49 percent of the vote in support of the initiative.

Despite the continuous defeats, experts agree campaigns demanding GMO labeling are far from over.

Activists Won’t Give Up

“The hallmark of the hard left is never to give up on a theme until long after it is dead…. I expect no let-up,” said Dennis Avery, director of the Center for Global Food Issues, which studies agriculture and environmental concerns regarding food production.

Competitive Enterprise Institute Executive Director Greg Conko agreed, saying, “We’re just at the beginning.”

“I’m very happy the labeling initiatives in Colorado and Oregon failed on Election Day, just like prior initiatives in Washington State last year and California in 2012. But I’m still troubled they’ve attracted as much support as they have,” Conko added.

GMOs Declared Safe

Avery said the attraction for labeling genetically modified foods has grown over the last twenty years despite scientific research demonstrating the safety of genetic modification. Domestic and international bodies, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Academies of Science, agree GMOs are safe.

Conko notes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration already requires producers to inform consumers any time a food has been changed in a way that impacts safety, wholesomeness, nutritional value, or even traits such as food’s taste, color, or mouth feel beyond the normal range of what consumers would expect.

Conko pointed out GMO labeling doesn’t actually tell consumers what’s different about their food. “Its sole purpose is to use scary terminology to make consumers think there’s something to be concerned about, when nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.

Opposing Interest Groups

The campaigns pitted environmental activists against major corporations, including Monsanto Co., Kraft Foods Group Inc., and Coca-Cola Co.

Grassroots campaigns in the two states had hoped to draw support from young voters. However, opponents don’t agree the so-called activists are really grassroots groups.

“These labeling initiatives are sometimes characterized by proponents as arising from grassroots movements, but they are something quite different: They are funded by self-interested special interests—the organic agriculture/food industry and the producers of various kinds of ‘natural’ remedies and other products that are nothing more than modern-day snake oil,” said Henry I. Miller, the Robert Wesson fellow in scientific philosophy and public policy at the Hoover Institution.

Conko argues anti-GMO laws and referenda are unnecessary because consumers already have multiple avenues to identify GMO products, including GMO-free shopping guides and smart phone apps listing GMO-free foods.

“The market has identified a demand for that information, and normal market forces are finding a variety of ways to supply it,” Conko said.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.