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Labeling Initiatives Fall in 2014 Elections; Maui Farmers Brace for Legal Fight

November 6, 2014
USA-VOTINGHANDThe ag, biotech and food communities watched closely as the results of ballot initiatives in Colorado (Proposition 105) and Oregon (Measure 92) unfolded in the wake of the November 4 elections.

Like previous ballet initiatives in California in 2012 and Washington State in 2013, the Colorado and Oregon proposals would have required the mandatory labeling of foods containing biotech ingredients.

Voters in both Colorado and Oregon voted against the labeling initiatives, with the Colorado measure going down by a 2 to 1 margin, 66 percent to 34 percent. In Oregon, defeat of the measure was closer with the latest results showing a difference of less than 10,000 votes at 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent.

“Just like the tens of millions of voters in California in 2012 and Washington State in 2013, voters in both Colorado and Oregon see how this proposal would have created more state bureaucracy, imposed new costs and burdens on local farmers and businesses, and increased food prices for hard-working families,” said Jim Greenwood, BIO President and CEO.

“While the biotech industry is committed to providing information about how our food is grown, that information needs to be conveyed in an accurate and fact-based way to consumers.

“We will continue to explore policies that represent a national solution and provide consumers with information about the foods we eat. In the meantime, non-GMO choices exist in the marketplace, and online resources, such as the GMO Answers website, can answer questions about technology and food production.”

Media reports by Reuters and the Wall Street Journal explain the financial contributions at place in each state and next steps in the continuing debate on biotech food labeling; A column in Forbes by strategic communications expert Richard Levick examines what messages help voters make up their minds; and an Associated Press report explains that despite losses, GMO labeling proponents won’t give up.

The farming community and biotech industry was also supporting the Citizens Committee Against the Maui County Farming Ban. Unfortunately, voters in Maui chose by a narrow margin to impose a ban on the cultivation of genetically modified crops and plants in Maui County. The measure affects agricultural practices on the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Just 1,077 votes separated the two sides with the moratorium passing 50.2 percent to 47.9 percent.

“Agricultural biotechnology has contributed to the innovative farming solutions that have enabled farmers to grow more food on less land with fewer pesticide applications, less water and reduced on-farm fuel use. This initiative will criminalize these hard-working farmers and will prohibit long-standing farming operations in Maui and on neighboring islands,” said Greenwood.

“Agricultural biotech farming operations – whose presence contributes substantially to Maui County’s economy – will essentially be forced to shut down, leaving hundreds of local citizens without jobs. Even more damaging, passage of this initiative is a ban on innovation and sustainable farming.

“The science of genetic engineering led to development of the Rainbow papaya, which is credited with saving Hawaii’s papaya industry. This technology has the potential to help other plants and crops – such as orchids, citrus, strawberries, coffee and bananas – withstand pests and disease. Now, Maui County farmers will be prohibited from using those improvements.

“We are proud of the successes and potential of biotechnology, and we will continue to defend our industry, our companies and their employees from baseless political claims that forbid science and eliminate farmer choice.”

Biotech seed companies Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences are poised to legally challenge Maui County’s moratorium on cultivating genetically engineered crops, reports the Honolulu Civil Beat.

Both companies issued statements to that effect Wednesday morning after Maui County voters on Tuesday narrowly approved a ballot initiative imposing the ban:

From Monsanto: “We believe this referendum is invalid and contrary to long established state and federal laws that support both the safety and lawful testing and planting of GMO plants. If effective, the referendum will have significant negative consequences for the local economy, Hawaii agriculture and our business on the island. We are committed to ongoing dialogue as we take steps to ask the court to declare that this initiative is legally flawed and cannot be enforced. Monsanto and other allied parties will be joining together in this effort.”

From Dow AgroSciences: “Dow AgroSciences is confident in the safety of our farming operations on Maui County and the safety of our products that have been reviewed and approved by federal and state agencies. With more than 170 local employees living and working in Molokai and Kauai, we understand the negative impact that this ban would have on the community, the local economy and on agriculture in Hawaii. As a longtime community member, we are proud of our operations and of our contributions to the islands. Dow AgroSciences is committed to an ongoing dialogue concerning these issues. However, we believe that the ban would be illegal, and we intend to protect our legal rights.”

Joni Kamiya explains on her Hawaii's Farmers Daughter blog how "ultimately, all of Hawaii has lost" and how "there is no mention of utilizing science and research to grow this food movement."