Food Industry Protests Oregon's Proposal to Label Genetically Engineered Foods

SALEM, Ore. - A Washington food industry group is mounting a major campaign to block Oregon from requiring labels on genetically engineered foods, The Associated Press reports.

The state will include a measure on its November ballot that would require labeling of all modified food and food additives sold in stores and restaurants, and any such food produced in the state. Labeling requirements already exist in Japan and parts of Europe, but there are none in the United States.

"If this ballot measure passes, it would set a dangerous precedent that would result in significant costs to taxpayers and consumers," said Gene Grabowski of the Alliance for Better Foods, based in Washington. The national coalition of food producers and retailers, biotech companies and agricultural groups has hired a Portland consulting firm to put together what promises to be a multimillion-dollar campaign.

Based on the overall amount of genetically modified crops, industry and environmental groups estimate that 70 percent of processed foods on U.S. supermarket shelves contains some genetically engineered components. The main crops that come from genetically altered seeds are soybeans and corn, along with canola that is turned into oil, according to the Agriculture Department.

Products made from modified soybeans include bread, candy, cereal, chocolates, crackers, flour, frozen yogurt, ice cream, infant formula, margarine and pasta, according to the Seattle-based Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods.

Grabowski also said there is already plenty of government regulation of food quality and that fear of harm by genetically modified foods is unfounded.

"It's in all kinds of food, and there's never been a single case of illness or any other problem," he said.

Backers of the labeling measure say too little is known about the long-term health effects of genetically engineered foods.

"It's like little kids playing with a chemistry set in a back bedroom. You hope they don't burn down the house," said Craig Winters, head of the Seattle campaign.

The group has been leading a national effort to get Congress to pass a federal labeling requirement, but has made little headway. Winters said passage of the Oregon measure would send a strong message to Washington.

Mike Rodemeyer, executive director of the nonpartisan Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, said various polls and opinion surveys he's seen make it clear that most Americans support the labeling requirement.

"People think it's important to know if the foods they are buying in the grocery store contain genetically modified ingredients," he said. "They feel strongly they have a right to know about a product's attributes."
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