GMO Labeling Measure Attracts Big Money in Oregon

An Oregon ballot measure on the labeling of genetically modified foods is starting to attract big money.

Portland, Oregon — An Oregon ballot measure on the labeling of genetically modified foods is starting to attract big money.

With ballots going out to voters this week, the two opposing camps combined have reported contributions of more than $12 million and expenditures of more than $11 million.

Labeling opponents, who are expected to raise a lot more money than proponents, have reported cash and in-kind contributions of $7.3 million thus far. They have reported spending $7.2 million, according to filings with the Oregon Secretary of State's office.

As in previous cases, the anti-labeling campaign is chiefly financed by out-of-state food corporations and biotech companies that grow engineered crops. Among the largest contributions: $1.6 million from Monsanto; $1.4 million from PepsiCo Inc., and $870,000 from Kraft Foods.

Labeling proponents show $4.8 million in contributions and $4.2 million in expenditures. Some of their highest donors include the Portland-based nonprofit Center for Food Safety, which donates $1.1 million and $900,000 from California-based Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap. The labeling campaign has also received small contributions from nearly 3,000 Oregon donors.

If adopted, the initiative by Oregon GMO Right to Know would require manufacturers, retailers and suppliers to label raw and packaged foods produced entirely or partially by genetic engineering. The measure would not apply to animal feed or food served in restaurants. It would be effective January 2016.

The Unites States does not require labeling of genetically engineered foods. Three states — Vermont, Maine and Connecticut — have passed labeling laws, although they don't take effect immediately.

Colorado voters also will get a say on a GMO labeling measure in November. In that state, proponents of the measure have been vastly outspent. While proponents show contributions of just $334,000, opponents have collected $9.7 million to defeat the campaign.

Similar labeling measures in California and in Washington state failed narrowly in recent years after millions of dollars were spent, mostly by labeling opponents.

The anti-labeling campaign spent about $45.6 million in California, compared with $8.7 million by supporters. In Washington state, opponents spent $33.3 million, compared with $9.8 million by the pro-labeling groups. In both cases, the measures were defeated by about 2 percentage points.

Labeling supporters say there aren't enough studies on the impacts of GMOs, so consumers have a right to know if they are eating them. Critics say mandatory labels would mislead consumers into thinking engineered ingredients are unsafe, which scientists have not proven.

Oregonians defeated a GMO labeling measure more than a decade ago. But earlier this year, voters in two rural, conservative counties in southern Oregon approved bans on GMO crops. The vote came on the heels of the discovery of a patch of GMO wheat in eastern Oregon.