On the ballot: The genetically modified food fight | PostIndependent.com

On the ballot: The genetically modified food fight

The Carbondale Community Food Co-op displays non-GMO food items.
Christopher Mullen / Post Independent |

Colorado’s voters continue to be pounded by multi-million dollar political advertising campaigns, often with the two candidates or issue opponents fairly evenly matched, with no respite in sight until Election Day.

But on one particular issue the campaign ads are entirely lopsided. Labeling genetically modified food, commonly called GMOs — meaning “genetically modified organisms” — is on the ballot, and has become a nearly $12 million issue.

But the “No on Proposition 105 Coalition” has spent $6.8 million dollars more than the “Right to Know Colorado” labeling advocates, and the anti-105 forces still have $4.1 million waiting to be spent.

“I can’t understand, why would they put $11 million into a Colorado campaign that has less than $500,000?” asked Larry Cooper, director of the “Right to Know” campaign. “What are they trying to hide?”

Sara Froelich, a campaign spokesperson for the No on 105 Coalition, said in an email, “No one should be surprised that agriculture and food companies are stepping forward to support their customers across Colorado who will be harmed by this measure.”

The agriculture and food companies against 105 include well-known names like Monsanto, Kraft Foods and PepsiCo. These three companies alone have contributed $7.4 million of the $11 million raised by this campaign.

The labeling advocates, however, have raised only $441,000, and have not purchased any television or radio advertising to advocate their position. The group is operating a grassroots campaign, knocking on doors and using social media to advance their cause.

This could mean that Coloradans who receive their information solely from TV ad campaigns think Colorado farmers do not support the labeling initiative — but that is only partly true.

The Colorado Farm Bureau has donated more than $7,000 to defeat the measure, but the Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union, with more than 22,000 members in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, actually endorsed the pro-labeling campaign.

“GMO labeling is one of the things that we support,” said Bill Midcap, director of external affairs of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. “But we know it’s going to be tough for a single state to enact.”

This year, Colorado and Oregon are the only two states with GMO labeling on the ballot, and many of the same corporations are also spending millions in Oregon to defeat the initiative there.

Maine, Vermont and Connecticut are the only states to have passed labeling requirements, but they will not be enacted until 2016 — or until a population of at least 20 million people in neighboring states require the labeling, too.

“How would you expect General Mills to label something special just for one state, just for Colorado?” Midcap said. “Think about Kellogg or Coca-Cola. Are they willing to change just for Colorado? Maybe if 15 states did it — but this would be more effective as a national issue.”

In Colorado, a Citizens Initiative Review board evaluated the labeling measure and decided by an 11-to-9 vote to approve it. Those who voted against the measure, like Bill Wright, explained that his greatest concern was that many foods may be exempt from the labeling measure.

“Normally when you go into a store and read labels, you rely on the information and people want to rely on what they are being told,” Wright said. “It’s probably a lot of food (that would be exempt) and that’s going to be a lot more confusing than if you just don’t do it at all.”

The measure would take effect in 2016, if passed.

The Grand Junction Free Press brings you this report in partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News. Learn more at rmpbs.org/news. Contact Katie Kuntz at katiekuntz@rmpbs.org.

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