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Consumers Union Hails Recount on GMO Labeling Law in Oregon, Calls Close Vote a Major Victory for Consumers

November 25, 2014

Consumers Union Hails Recount on GMO Labeling Law in Oregon, Calls Close Vote a Major Victory for Consumers

CU Urges Congress Not to Prohibit Consumer Right to Know Laws

Yonkers, NY—Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, hailed the projected recount on Oregon’s Measure 92, which would require labeling of genetically engineered food. Despite major media outlets and the opposition saying the measure had failed after the November 4 election, sustained efforts to count each vote now show that the difference is so close that a recount must take place. The ballot initiative trailed by only 809 votes in the final unofficial count released Monday night. The margin represents less than 0.1 percent of the more than 1.5 million votes cast, well within the 0.2 margin that mandates a recount. A recount will likely take place during the first two weeks in December.

“Despite the millions of dollars from big food and agribusiness companies that poured in to oppose Measure 92, hundreds of thousands of Oregon voters made their voices heard loud and clear: they want to know if their foods are genetically engineered,” said Michael Hansen, Ph.D., Senior Scientist for Consumers Union, who appeared in television ads for the Yes on 92 campaign. “The extreme closeness of this vote is a victory for consumers’ right to know what’s in their food.”

Major corporations outspent supporters of labeling by more than two to one, and are now taking their fight to Congress. A bill that would prohibit states from passing GMO labeling laws is scheduled for a hearing on December 10. “Consumers want and have a right to know what is in their food,” said Dr. Michael Hansen. “Congress should not interfere with the democratic right of consumers to enact labeling at the state level.”

Industry opponents of Measure 92, including Monsanto, DuPont, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Kraft Foods, among others, far outspent supporters, making this the most expensive ballot measure in the Oregon’s history. By election day, opponents had spent $20.5 million, whereas supporters spent $8 million. Monsanto, the leading producer of genetically engineered seed in the U.S., alone spent $6 million in opposition.

Measure 92 would require packaged food to indicate if it is genetically engineered. Corn, soy, canola and beet sugar are the main genetically engineered food crops grown in the U.S. GMO labeling is required in more than 60 foreign countries, but not in the U.S. Passage of Measure 92 would make Oregon the first state in the nation to pass a GMO labeling law at the ballot box.

Last year, Vermont became the first state in the nation to pass a GMO labeling bill by a state legislature. That law is scheduled to go into effect in 2016, though it is being challenged in court by the food and agriculture industries. Two other states—Connecticut and Maine—have GMO passed labeling laws, but implementation is contingent upon neighboring states passing similar legislation. Several state legislatures throughout the country are considering GMO labeling bills.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is poised to approve the sale of the first genetically modified animal (salmon), engineered to reach market weight in half the time as wild salmon, without labeling.

“Consumer concern about genetically engineered food is clearly not going away. We expect to see more bills on labeling in state legislatures in the coming year,” said Dr. Hansen.

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Naomi Starkman, nstarkman.consultant@consumer.org