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GE Food Labeling Initiative in Oregon
Has Biotech Industry Worried


June 25, 2002,
Associated Press
Oregon Food Labeling Initiative Appears Headed for November Ballot
Salem, Oregon


Backers of a statewide initiative that would require labeling of all
genetically engineered food sold in Oregon say they have collected more than
84,000 signatures, which will likely be enough to get the item on the
November ballot.

Signatures gathered in support of the proposal need to be delivered to the
Secretary of State's office by July 5. Roughly 67,000 valid signatures are
required to qualify for the ballot. Labels saying "Genetically Engineered"
also would be required for food additives and packaging that have a
genetically modified origin.

"It's a consumer's right-to-know issue basically," said Kate Lord, co-chief
petitioner with the Oregon Concerned Citizens for Safe Food.

Genetically engineered foods are produced by identifying and selecting genes
with desired traits in plants, animals, bacteria or viruses, and
transferring them into the DNA of a host organism.

Examples include corn containing genes from bacteria that make the corn
resistant to insects, or soy beans containing genes from bacteria that make
the plant resistant to Round Up, a widely used herbicide.
Proponents say the process increases crop protection and yields, and reduces
production costs.

"I think the main thing is that they're turning out to be saving on the
amount of pesticides being used," said Terri Lomax, an Oregon State
University professor of botany specializing in biotechnology issues.
The process by which a potentially marketable biotech plant is developed
takes several years and millions of dollars and is overseen by a trio of
federal agencies.

Still, some people are not convinced that so-called "frankenfoods" are safe.
Nor are they aware that they probably consume them, unlabeled, on a regular
basis.

Joan Riley, emerging from a Salem health store, said she was shocked to
learn that about 70 percent of processed foods on store shelves contain some
component from GMOs.

"What Pandora's Box are we opening?" said Riley, an administrative assistant
with the Oregon Department of Human Services.

The grocery industry might be asking the same thing if the measure passes.
"It basically would put (the Oregon Department of Agriculture) in a position
of trying to police the world's food supply," said Pat McCormick, a lobbyist
for Grocery Manufacturers of America. "You'd have to have mechanisms to
track products from the farm to the fork."

Ron McKay, administrator of ODA's Food Safety Division, said the agency does
not yet know what costs might arise if voters approve the ballot measure.
"We're reviewing it," he said.

Lomax said requiring labeling in a single state would be problematic.
"What people would do is they would just avoid trading with Oregon," she
said. "It would be an incredible economic burden on the state."

Several other states are pushing similar initiatives this year, including
Washington, California and Colorado.

Lord, the petitioner, disputed that the measure would be very costly, saying
that ODA already has some labeling infrastructure in place.


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