Denver, CO; Salem, OR—Two state ballot initiatives that would have required the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food to be called out on labels failed to pass on Election Day. The vote on Colorado’s Proposition 105 was not close, as voters shot it down 66% to 34%. Oregon’s Measure 92 came up short by less than one percentage point, or about 10,000 votes.
The campaigns leading up to each vote featured millions spent on advertising, most of it donated by food and biotech industry companies that wanted the measures defeated. Oregon’s ballot measure was the most expensive in the state’s history, with opponents of the measure raising over $20 million to defeat it. The leading anti-labeling donors included Monsanto Company, DuPont Pioneer, PepsiCo and Kraft Foods. Proponents of the measure in Oregon gathered approximately $7 million in comparison. In Colorado, the funding difference was more stark, as supporters of the proposition were outspent more than 18 to one.
GMO labeling ballot measures in Washington and California, in 2013 and 2012, respectively, were narrowly defeated. In similar fashion to the run-up to those votes, citizens in Oregon and Colorado were inundated with advertising. Television commercials tried to convince voters that labeling GMOs is unnecessary, and could be misleading or harmful. Ads claimed that labeling would not tell consumers which specific ingredients were genetically modified, that the measure would require some products to be labeled even if they don’t contain GMOs, that thousands of products would be exempt and that GMO labeling in one state would conflict with nationwide product labeling systems.
Advocates of labeling say these claims contain varying levels of truth. But perhaps most motivating for consumers, and a major reason labeling measures keep getting defeated, is the claim that GMO labeling would increase food prices. This claim appears false if it is based only on the minor adjustments to product labels such laws would require. But, it could prove true if consumers reject products with GMO labels and large food companies are forced to reformulate their products with more expensive non-GMO ingredients.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, December 2014 (online 11/6/14)