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As Midterm Elections Near Some Voters Will Have to Decide on More Than Who Will Control the State's Legislature

October 17, 2014
As we close in on the "midterm" elections, not only will voters decide which parties will control the states' legislatures but many will be asked to vote on contentious ballot initiatives. Colorado and Oregon each have statewide ballot initiatives pending that would force food companies to label any products derived from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). In Maui County, Hawaii (including the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai) and in Humboldt County, California, voters will decide whether or not to ban GMO crops. Below outlines reasons why, if passed, these initiatives would be bad for farmers, create further confusion for consumers and place more costs onto families.

Colorado: Proposition 105
The No vote, against the proposition to label GMO derived foods, was endorsed by thousands of individual and groups as well as numerous newspapers. The Denver Post Editorial Board this week came out endorsing the No vote as they deemed Proposition 105 as "badly flawed measure that will hurt Colorado farmers and food producers without providing any health benefit to consumers." The editorial further explains that "(105) exempts broad categories of food products, from chewing gum to alcoholic beverages, that may include GMO ingredients. Most cheese is made using genetically modified microbes that produce a critical enzyme. But such food is exempt from mandatory labeling in Prop 105. Either GMO labeling is a vital consumer tool or it is not."

Oregon: Measure 92
The state pulled together a 20 member citizens panel to review the initiative. This independent panel of likely voters representing all parts of the state voted against the measure. The Oregonian newspaper reports that the panel concluded that the costs of labeling are a fraction of the costs of compliance and certification, and also that the measure wouldn't provide information to consumers about which foods contain GMO ingredients and which do not.

Humboldt County, California: Measure P
The Genetic Contamination Prevention Ordinance would ban the propagation, cultivation, raising, or growing of genetically modified organisms in the entire Humboldt County. The proposal would not, however, prevent the sale of GMO derived foods. If passed, the ordinance would go into effect immediately but allow farmers already using gm technology to end production by January of 2016. There is no organized effort by ag or industry groups to counter the initiative. Humboldt State University biology professor Mark Wilson, who had organized discussion sessions to educate county citizens about the science and safety behind biotechnology stated "What we are being asked to do as a county is to vote against all the scientists and vote for the conspiracy theorists." Dr. Wilson, in materials prepared for his biology students, annotates the actual ballot language where DNA is defined and states: "DNA is not a protein," contrary to the definition before voters.

Organic dairy farmer in Humboldt, John Vevoda, was quoted in the Times Standard last week as stating that the passage of Measure P would pit farmers against farmers for no particularly good reason. "I think it really sends a mixed message out there to the consumer who doesn't have a clue what the difference is." That is a quote from an organic farmer who has previously used GM seed and now is worried that he can't do so in the future if the measure passes. He also stated that he will not turn in his neighbors who he knows use GM seed for their corn crops.

Maui County, Hawaii GMO Ban
Residents will decide whether or not to put an immediate moratorium on all genetically modified farming in the county. BIO members Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences both maintain facilities within the county and would be immediately impacted, including 600 jobs and thousands of people who rely on these two employers. State economists have estimated that should the measure pass the county unemployment rate would rise from 4.7 to 5.5 %.

The question itself before voters, other than being potentially devastating, is also very confusing: "Maui: Voter Initiative: Genetically Engineered Organisms. Should the proposed initiative prohibiting the cultivation or reproduction of genetically engineered organisms within the County of Maui, which may be amended or repealed as to a specific person or entity when required environmental and public health impact studies, public hearings, a two thirds vote and a determination by the County Council that such operation or practice meets certain standards, and which established civil and criminal penalties, be adopted for Maui County?" Huh?