November’s state ballot just got modified.
Proposed Initiative 105, as approved by the Colorado Supreme Court on Aug. 20, proposes required labeling of genetically modified or engineered foods (GMO/GE) starting July 1, 2016. The initiative is spearheaded by the grassroots campaign Right to Know Colorado GMO, which started organizing and fundraising last year.
If passed, the proposition would require the label “Produced with Genetic Engineering” to appear on “food that has been genetically modified or treated with genetically modified material,” according to the title designation by the Ballot Title Setting Board. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment would be responsible for enforcing this labeling.
“It’s pretty simple,” said Larry Cooper, co-chair of the Right to Know Colorado campaign. “It’s a grassroots campaign simply asking for foods that contain genetically modified organisms to be labeled, so people have a choice and freedom to choose to buy them or not buy them.
According to a news release from the organization, Right to Know Colorado GMO turned in a petition with almost 171,370 signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State by the Aug. 4 deadline, and 125,000 of the signatures were deemed valid. Just more than 86,000 signatures were required to be eligible for the ballot. Cooper said these signatures were gathered in three months.
“This historic achievement is only possible because of the thousands of hours volunteers contributed to this effort,” Cooper said in the release. “We had more than 500 people collect signatures throughout the state with signatures from every county in the state. The people of Colorado made this happen.”
For Cooper, the drive for labeling came from his seven grandchildren.
“I had no idea what a GMO was — this was two and a half years ago,” Cooper told The Fence Post. “I was feeding my youngest grandchild some formula, and I was reading the label, going, ‘oh my gosh, this contains GMOs. I wonder if they’re safe.’ I couldn’t find any research to tell me if they were safe or not safe. I was wondering why they were on the market.”
Nationwide, 31 states have introduced legislation to label GMOs or GEs, and three — Maine, Vermont and Connecticut — have passed these propositions. The first of these initiatives was signed into law in Connecticut on Dec. 12, 2013. In 2013 alone, 54 bills were introduced in 26 states, according to the Center for Food Safety. So far in 2014, 35 bills have been introduced in 20 states.
In a July 2013 poll, the New York Times found 93 percent of Americans support labeling of genetically altered food.
Colorado State University’s Extension Office issued a fact sheet on genetically engineered foods, detailing both some of the arguments for both sides of the labeling debate, including food allergies, diet preferences and food costs.
One of the pro-arguments, as Cooper emphasizes, is the right for people to know what they are consuming.
“What the reality is, in the United States, you’d think we would have the freedom to know what’s in our food supply so we can make decisions about what we buy,” he said.
On the other side of the coin, though, a lack of significant, long-term research causes skepticism as to the necessity of these labels and the stigma they perpetuate.
The Coalition Against the Misleading Labeling Initiative formed in response to the Colorado Right to Know GMO campaign in the hopes of showing voters what spokesperson Sara Froelich said are harmful inconsistencies within the bill.
“Prop 105, I feel the more voters know about it, the less they’re going to like it,” Froelich said. “What this measure would do is require labeling on the process not the actual product.”
The coalition includes major names in Colorado agriculture, including the Colorado Farm Bureau Federation, Rocky Mountain Food Industry Association, Rocky Mountain Agribusiness Association, Colorado Bioscience Association, Colorado Sugar Beet Growers Association, Farmers Alliance for Integrated Resources and the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers, among others. The costs associated with this bill, Froelich said, would put Colorado agriculture producers and businesses at a “huge competitive disadvantage,” in addition to raising prices for consumers.
“The reason it would drive up crop costs is that it would create a separate system. So everything would have to be specially stored, processed, labeled, separate combines in the field, separate distribution centers, separate train cars — and those costs are incredibly expensive,” Froelich said.
According to the fact sheet released by CSU Extension, this separation would go beyond the scope of what the current facilities would allow.
“The food system infrastructure (storage, processing and transportation facilities) in this country could not currently accommodate the need for segregation of GE and non-GE products,” it reads.
Froelich also said an important thing to note about the legislation is the exemptions within it.
“Consumers are very concerned about Prop 105 because of all of the unfair exemptions,” Froelich said. “Consumers want to know reliable and accurate information, and this just leaves them scratching their heads.”
These exemptions include “animals that are not genetically modified but have been fed or injected with genetically modified food or drugs, certain food that is not packaged for retail sale and is intended for immediate human consumption, alcoholic beverages, food for animals and medically prescribed food.”
Altogether, according to Froelich, about 2/3 of the food available in a grocery store would be exempted, including meat and dairy products. All ready-to-serve food, like that of a grocery store’s deli, a restaurant or convenience store, would be exempt from labeling as well.
In addition, all products leaving and coming into Colorado would have to undergo this labeling, no matter the laws in the state of origin or destination.
“Not only would it require labeling for products grown or produced in colorado, but everything that was imported into Colorado and exported out of Colorado,” she said. “Do you want to put the equivalent of a warning label on everything coming out of Colorado?”
Colorado Corn issued a statement on its website Aug. 22 about the ballot initiative, urging people to follow its website, Facebook and Twitter to “learn more about why this would be a bad law for Colorado.”
Although there is an obvious concern for farmers, Cooper said the initiative isn’t aiming to hurt their business.
“We’re not asking for banning, we’re asking for labeling, simply so we know what is in our food,” Cooper said. “I think as more and more farmers take a look at what the options are for themselves on their own farms, they’ll have to make business decisions I’m sure. But there’s a big economic advantage to going non-GMO, especially with the problem with exports of crops.”
According to an Aug. 7 article published in Wall Street Journal, 64 nations, including China, Russia, India, Japan and the European Union, mandate GMO/GE labeling.
For now, both Right to Know Colorado and the Coalition Against the Misleading Labeling Initiative are moving forward with fundraising and campaign efforts going into election season.
“We’re doing whatever we can to get organized at this point,” Cooper said. “We’re working on setting up a campaign, so we’re busy working away.”
The Fence Post will be following this story as it develops and as we uncover more perspectives, providing weekly updates through the November election. We encourage your thoughts and responses to this approaching political debate — you can send letters to reporter Nikki Work at email@example.com to be
considered for publication.