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Supermarkets Worried Over
Oregon Labeling Initiative

Supermarket News August 26, 2002 ; Brief Article

GMO LABEL FIGHT PUT ON BALLOT IN OREGON

By: BARBARA Murray

PORTLAND, OR--The Oregon Grocery Industry Association
here is among the groups working to defeat an initiative that would
require the labeling of any genetically engineered food ingredient in
any food sold, distributed or produced in the state. The
initiative will be on the ballot this fall. Natural foods
retailers are working in support of the measure, as well as
six local food co-ops here, said Donna Harris, the chief
petitioner. Proponents of the measure, Oregon Concerned
Citizens for Safe Foods, collected more than 101,000
signatures to get on the ballot. On the other side is The
Coalition Against The Costly Labeling Law, which has hired
a lobbying firm here, Conkling, Fiscum and McCormick, to
wage a multimillion-dollar campaign against the proposal.

The coalition is composed of biotechnology and food
industry members and retailers in Oregon, as well as
scientists who do research in biotech foods. Cost is cited
as the chief reason to work against the measure, as the cost
of research and labeling would be passed on to the consumer
in a state suffering from the highest unemployment rate in
the nation. "At this point we are organizing the campaign
effort, reaching out to allies to expand the coalition and
develop a network of grassroots capabilities, to allow us
to talk with as many Oregonians as we can," said Pat
McCormick, a partner in Conkling, Fiscum and McCormick.

This will include television and will be a very visible
campaign, he said. "What is being proposed here is sweeping.
It would be much more comprehensive in its labeling
requirements than anyplace else in the world. The law would
generate costs to taxpayers, farmers and, ultimately, to
consumers," McCormick said. The law would apply to such
varied applications as running a restaurant, selling Girl
Scout cookies or serving food in a jail mess hall, he said,
and requiring labels on anything that has been made with
genetically engineered ingredients or inputs. Gene
Grabowski, spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of
America, Washington, said the association is not engaged in
the Oregon fight, but is observing. "The food industry
believes this is a fight that should be financed by the
biotech industry," Grabowski told SN. Some members of the
GMA are part of the coalition, McCormick said. Oregon would
be the first state to require such a listing, although
similar measures have been proposed in Colorado, Maine and
Florida, according to McCormick. Brian Rohter, president of
natural and organic New Seasons Market here, said his
company has been actively supporting the initiative, making
financial contributions to get the word out, and even had
staff members at the small chain's Solutions customer
service booth collect signatures to get the initiative on
the ballot. "I don't know if it's going to pass. I hope so,
but, regardless, it will elevate the issue to a high public
profile that will be hugely valuable to the eaters of the
state," he told SN. But Rohter added, "Our position is not
that genetically engineered foods are bad -- we just want
them labeled."

Harris said the group is "not really" getting any help
from Greenpeace, the national environmental activist
organization. "We contacted them, but they told us they had
no one to send," she said in a phone interview with SN on
Aug. 19. The Green Party has endorsed the move here, as has
the Natural Law Party nationwide, she said. She estimated
that the other side will spend between $ 4 million and $ 5
million, vs. the grassroots total of probably $ 150,000 to $
200,000. Grassroots movements do well in this state,
however, she said, after 10 years' experience working with
the referendum and initiative process.

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