Friday, July 25, 2014

Biotech Family Secrets - Measure 27 (2002)

Biotech Family Secrets:

Can a rag-tag team of volunteers with little money but lots of heart go up against a heavily financed opposition spending millions of dollars on misleading ads, and win? Stay tuned. 

On November 5th, Oregon voters will decide whether to approve Measure 27, which would require genetically engineered foods distributed or sold in Oregon to be labeled.

Public opinion polls consistently show that 80 percent or more of Americans want genetically engineered foods to be labeled. In fact, a June, 2001 survey, reported by ABC News, showed that an astonishing 93 percent of Americans support labeling. So winning a labeling measure in a progressive Pacific Northwest state should be a no-brainer, right?

Not when you consider that the opposition — funded chiefly by Monsanto and other biotech companies — planned to spend $6 million to defeat the initiative, about 40 times more than Measure 27’s supporters. That would be a record amount spent on an Oregon initiative campaign, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Several Oregon newspapers came out with editorials opposing Measure 27, often making pro-corporate arguments rather than examining why so much of the American public supports labeling. Many activists were left wondering if newspapers were trying not to bite the hand that feeds them, considering that newspapers rely heavily on advertisements from the food industry, and much of the food industry opposes labeling. 

The FDA, in an unusual entrance into state politics, even became involved in the fray. On October 4th, Deputy Commissioner Lester M. Crawford wrote a letter to Oregon governor John Kitzhaber, saying that labeling of genetically engineered foods is unnecessary and goes against FDA guidelines. "FDA's scientific evaluation of bioengineered foods continues to show that these foods, as currently marketed in the United States, are as safe as their conventional counterparts," Crawford wrote.

The FDA’s meddling, and its continued insistence that genetically engineered foods are “substantially equivalent” to their non-GMO counterparts, angered activists. Donna Harris, the chief petitioner of the Oregon measure, asked USA Today, “If they're the same as everything else, then how come they have a patent on them?” The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods sent an action alert to its membership, urging folks to send letters of protest to the FDA. 

Win or lose, the battle to label genetically engineered foods will continue on several fronts. If Measure 27 passes, it will increase pressure on the federal government to pass national labeling legislation. The biotech industry may try to defeat the measure in court if it passes. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) are expected to re-introduce federal labeling legislation early next year. If Measure 27 loses, several organizations plan to continue the push for labeling on a national scale, and new initiatives could crop up in California, Washington, Colorado and other states. With the experience in Oregon, these groups will have learned many lessons to apply to the next battle.

No comments:

Post a Comment