On November 4, 2014, voters in Oregon and in Colorado will determine whether manufacturers must disclose which foods contain genetically modified organisms (“GMOs”). Oregon voters will be voting on a GMO-labeling requirement for the second time as a previous ballot initiative in 2002 did not pass.
Whether food labels must disclose the use of GMOs is the subject of much debate. Supporters of GMO-labeling laws claim the environment and public health are at risk, while opponents of GMO-labeling laws argue that GMOs are safe and that the passage of GMO-labeling laws will negatively impact the food supply and technological development. Each side claims to be acting for the public good, and each side has experienced mixed victories.
Despite the fact that more than 25 states have proposed, considered, passed, or discarded GMO-labeling legislation or ballot initiatives, it is hard to determine a winner in the GMO debate. Vermont became the first state to officially require mandatory labeling of GMO foods, but the new law is now embroiled in litigation. Recent GMO-labeling ballot initiatives in California and Washington narrowly failed to pass. GMO-labeling laws in Maine and Connecticut passed but will not be effective until other states join the GMO-labeling movement. Multiple bipartisan, federal bills regarding GMO-labeling have also been introduced in Congress.
Citizen panels in Oregon and Colorado reflect this divide. In an 11-9 vote, an Oregon citizen panel recommended that Oregon voters oppose November’s GMO-labeling ballot initiative. However, in a different 11-9 vote, a Colorado citizen panel recommended that voters support November’s GMO-labeling ballot initiative.
The votes in Oregon and in California will not resolve this contest, particularly if the results differ, but they may prolong or curtail the amount of time before a final resolution on the GMO-labeling issue.