Initiative Reform Passes, but Food, Health Plans Fail

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), November 6, 2002 | Go to article overview

Initiative Reform Passes, but Food, Health Plans Fail


Byline: DIANE DIETZ The Register-Guard

Labeling genetically engineered food and providing health care for everybody are nice concepts - but the price may have been too high for most Oregon voters.

A measure to provide universal health care was falling hard with an 80 percent `no' vote late Tuesday. And a measure to require food labeling was stumbling with 73 percent of voters in opposition.

Election Night held several surprises for statewide measures: While dashing most money measures, voters approved increasing the minimum wage by 40 cents an hour. A low-key campaign to elect Supreme Court judges by district, instead of at large, was evenly split 50-50 at press time.

And a measure to remove racially offensive language from the Oregon Constitution passed - but nearly one-third of voters were in favor of retaining the language.

A state initiative reform measure, which bans paying signature gatherers by the signature, was passing handily with 75 percent of voters in favor.

The hardest fought of all the measures was the genetically engineered food labeling requirement.

Supporters attribute their loss to the record-breaking campaign spending by opponents.

Their $200,000 campaign was all but washed away by a $6 million deluge that major biotech firms - including Monsanto and DuPont - pumped into Oregon to defeat the measure. Oregon is the only state so far to consider the labeling.

"They did come out with both barrels," said Donna Harris, a Portland mother who launched the effort out of concern about baby food. "When they spend $6 million you can't counteract what they're saying."

On the flip side, opponents say facts killed the labeling measure. Campaign advertising got those facts to the voters, said Pat McCormick, a Portland public relations executive who ran the campaign against labeling. "The closer the voters looked, the less they liked (the measure)."

"Oregonians have emphatically rejected the effort to raise people's fear about the foods they eat," McCormick said.

But this election is only the first of many rounds in a nationwide push for a labeling law on genetically engineered food, Harris said, and that's cause for election-night celebration for the pro camp.

The campaign brought concerns about genetically modified foods to audiences from coast to coast - and even farther, Harris said.

The British Broadcasting Corp. and the London Times ran stories about Oregon's campaign, she said. …

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