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Measure 92 slaps a bad label on Oregon

The two sides in the debate over genetically engineered foods have turned Oregon into a battleground state in a food fight with global implications.

The decision for voters, however, should come down to what’s best for Oregon, not what message this state’s voters are sending to others around the world. And when we examine what we think is best for Oregon and its families, we conclude that the wisest course is to reject Measure 92. Science is firmly on the side of continued use of genetically modified foods, and until someone can demonstrate a danger from these foods, we see no reason to slap what could be perceived as a warning label on otherwise safe substances.

Measure 92 would require labeling of foods that contain genetically modified organisms — commonly called GMOs. A similar initiative was voted down in Oregon 12 years ago, and GMO-labeling measures also have been rejected in Washington and California.

The GMO issue is packed with emotion. Critics of GMOs are vocal, organized, impassioned and mostly well-intentioned. Defenders of GMOs include the agricultural giant Monsanto, whose big campaign bucks make an easy — and frequent — target for the other side.

Proponents and opponents of this measure have burned through millions in out-of-state cash, making this the most expensive campaign in state history. And both have succeeded in confusing voters with a flood of ads, mailings and misleading arguments.

Strip all that noise away, however, and we recommend a “no” vote for three simple reasons:

n First, the most persuasive argument in favor of Measure 92 is that we need some way to protect farmers from genetically engineered crops that may jump fence lines. If this measure were focused on that, we might support it. But as written, Measure 92 would drive further divisions between the state’s agricultural communities and their urban neighbors. We recognize that some farmers support the labeling initiative, but a large majority — including the 8,000-member Oregon Farm Bureau — believe it will complicate their lives and drive up their costs as they are forced to document their practices, segregate their crops and take other steps to ensure their products are labeled correctly.

So, approval of Measure 92 could very well be a case of predominately urban voters once again supporting a requirement that has to be implemented at substantial cost to rural Oregon. That’s bad politics and bad policy.

n Second, there will be a cost of some sort for this additional labeling requirement, which will be borne by all consumers. Under labeling rules that already are in effect, people who don’t want to consume GMOs can voluntarily seek out organic or non-GMO products, which generally carry a premium price. However, if Measure 92 is approved, everyone — whether it matters to them or not — will have to pay something for the right to know about GMOs. It may be pennies, or it may be dollars, but it still will be a universal cost for a basic necessity.

n Finally, some proponents of Measure 92 are raising health concerns when the vast body of scientific evidence supports the safety of GMOs. For example, the American Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health studied the issues, reviewed the science and concluded that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “science-based labeling policies do not support special labeling without evidence of material differences between bioengineered foods and their traditional counterparts.” We could cite a plethora of studies, but the question is this: If the food is safe and has been thoroughly tested, why should it carry a special label?

Consumers are more accustomed to labels that warn of dangers — think tobacco and alcohol — or that convey useful nutritional information about calories, fat and sodium. The GMO label doesn’t fall within those categories.

Ballot measures generally are the poorest method for making public policy. Particularly when it comes to a technical matter such as food labeling and GMOs, any measure drafted by passionate advocates is going to have unintended consequences. We recommend a “no” vote on Measure 92.

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