National Labels Better

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), October 5, 2002 | Go to article overview

National Labels Better


Byline: The Register-Guard

Until the biotech giants tromped into the campaign, Measure 27 on the November ballot looked simple. This well-intentioned but impractical proposal would require that all genetically engineered foods sold in or distributed from Oregon be labelled as such - not a bad idea at the national level, but potentially troublesome for a single state. The lavishly funded campaign against Measure 27 has created a powerful temptation to vote yes - but not quite powerful enough. Oregonians should follow their heads, not their hearts, and reluctantly vote no.

Monsanto, DuPont and other producers of genetically engineered agricultural products have raised $4.6 million to fight Measure 27, with more to come. The opponents have an unenviable job. It's tough to argue that consumers shouldn't have information about the food they buy, especially when surveys show that most Americans want such information.

It's tougher yet to argue that a labeling requirement is not needed because genetically engineered foods are safe. If that's the case, then there should be no objection to labeling. Existing product labels list ingredients, all of them presumably safe. Indeed, because two-thirds or more of the products on grocery shelves contain genetically engineered ingredients, labels would inform consumers that they've been eating those products for years without ill effects. Instead, opponents of Measure 27 claim that foods labeled as genetically engineered would bear a stigma. The biotech industry's real problem is the stigma, not the label.

The difficulty of making these arguments has led opponents down some twisted paths - claiming, for instance, that Measure 27 is sponsored by organic food producers who stand to gain from having competing products labeled as genetically engineered. If Measure 27's only effect would be to give a boost to Oregon's thriving organic food industry, voters should bring it on. It's bizarre to see the Goliaths of global agribusiness attacking the profit motives of Oregon's organic Davids. …

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