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GMO labeling measure qualifies for ballot

It joins six others for voters Nov. 4.


Oregon voters will get their chance to decide whether to require labeling of foods with genetically modified organisms.

The state Elections Division determined Wednesday that an initiative measure has qualified for the Nov. 4 statewide ballot. Voters will face a total of seven measures, though only four are initiatives.

Similar GMO labeling measures were rejected in California in 2012 and Washington in 2013, but only after campaign spending of $46 million and $22 million, the latter a record for Washington state. Oregon voters rejected a GMO measure in 2002.

Vermont is the only state with a GMO labeling law, but it has been challenged in court even before it takes effect.

Oregon advocates raised and spent more than $1 million, most of it from out-of-state sources, to gather the signatures for the measure.

State elections officials say that through sampling, they verified 118,780 of the 149,588 signatures accepted, far more than the 87,213 required.

Sandeep Kaushik, a spokesman for the Oregon Right to Know campaign committee, says most of the signatures were gathered in just six weeks.

"That is a powerful indication that Oregonians understand that protecting the profits of chemical conglomerates and agribusiness giants should not take precedence over the public's right to know what is in the food they eat and feed their families," he said in a statement.

Advocates say they expect to be outspent heavily in the general election, but draw hope from resounding victories in Jackson and Josephine counties, where voters approved GMO bans in the May 20 primary election.

Scott Dahlman is executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter, which he expects will become part of a coalition to oppose the measure, similar to what happened in 2002.

"This proposal would mandate costly and misleading food labeling regulations in Oregon that don't exist in any other state — hurting Oregon farmers and food producers, and costing taxpayers and consumers millions," he said in a statement.

The GMO measure is the final initiative to qualify for the ballot. Two were referred by the Legislature in 2013 and 2014, and a third was passed by the Legislature, but opponents obtained enough signatures to put it on the ballot.

The others are:

— A constitutional amendment to allow the state to create a fund, using bonds or other debt, from which to draw aid to students in post-secondary education.

— A constitutional amendment to allow judges to teach (mostly in law schools) without violating employment restrictions.

— A bill to create four-year driver’s cards, shorter than the usual eight-year license, for those who meet all driving requirements except proof of legal presence in the United States.

— A constitutional amendment to write a guarantee of nondiscrimination against women into the Oregon Constitution.

— A measure to allow the top two finishers for an office in primary elections, regardless of party affiliation, to advance to the general election. Oregon has had closed party primaries for more than a century.

— A measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Details of regulation and taxation would be left to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

— The GMO labeling measure described above.

peterwong@PortlandTribune.com

(503) 385-4899

twitter.com/capitolwong


Corrects error in headline; adds comments from advocate and opponent.