SAN FRANCISCO – The battle over genetically modified food labeling thats drawn almost $85 million in campaign donations in little more than a year is moving to Oregon after industry opponents defeated drives in California and all but certainly in Washington state.
Oregon advocates are pushing ahead with a pair of labeling initiatives for the 2014 general election despite the two consecutive failures in which opponents funded by the food industry, including Monsanto and DuPont, makers of bioengineered crop seeds, exponentially outspent supporters.
I dont see any reason at all to change strategy, said George Kimbrell, a senior attorney in the Portland office of the Center for Food Safety, which supports labeling. The only thing that is causing us to narrowly lose these initiatives is the tidal wave of money that the chemical companies are spending.
Besides Oregon, lawmakers from New York to Hawaii may be next to offer bills on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Similar measures were weighed in about half of U.S. states this year. Only Connecticut and Maine approved labeling, and their legislation wont take effect until other states do the same.
We expect to see legislative proposals around the country, and we will continue to work to educate and engage with legislators, said Louis Finkel, executive vice president for government affairs at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group. The organization says a national standard should be set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In Oregon, a Salem-based group called Oregonians for Food and Shelter has sued the state, challenging the ballot title of one of the initiatives and the constitutionality of the other measure. The question of the ballot title has delayed gathering of signatures needed to get on the ballot, Scott Dahlman, executive director of the group, said by telephone.
What were trying to do is make sure that if this measure does move forward, that the ballot title reflects whats in it, Dahlman said.
The organization describes its focus as protecting those who responsibly use pest-management products, soil nutrients and biotechnology from government over-regulation, according to its website. Its board includes representatives of Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont and St. Louis-based Monsanto.
Were trying to learn from Washington and California, said Scott Bates, director of GMO Free Oregon, a group backing labeling. At the moment, Im thinking were not going to be alone in November. There will be other states doing it besides us.
His goal is to gather 130,000 signatures to put the issue before voters, Bates said. A similar measure failed in 2002 after only 30 percent supported it.
In Washington state, where the vote was conducted by mail-in ballot, the labeling initiative trailed 48 percent to 52 percent as of Nov. 9, according to unofficial results posted on the secretary of states website. The count is expected to be completed by Nov. 26.
Opponents collected $22 million in donations to defeat the Washington measure, compared with $7.7 million from advocates, according to MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization based in Berkeley, Calif.
Washingtons industry-backed opponents spent their funds effectively on advertising that increased opposition, said Stuart Elway, president of Seattle-based polling company Elway Research.
Its kind of a classic case study, Elway said. The advertising and the money it takes to put the advertising on was working.