Across various states in Election 2014, there are several ballot measures that will have a direct and substantial impact on agriculture if passed, including GMO production bans and labeling initiatives. You can click here or on the “Ballot Box 2014” label below for all related articles on these ballot measures. Don’t see a ballot proposal? Send me an email and let me know!
In the first of Ballot Box 2014 series, I discussed a ballot proposal in Oregon that would require mandatory labeling of food products containing genetically modified foods. I explained that the proposal was confusing and misleading. Turns out that is a trend when it comes to these ballot proposals. In Colorado, voters will be given the opportunity to determine whether the state should impose mandatory labeling standards. Colorado’s Proposition 105 is about as misleading, confusing, and costly as they come.
The official ballot language reads as follows:
Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning labeling of genetically modified food; and, in connection therewith, requiring food that has been genetically modified or treated with genetically modified material to be labeled, “Produced With Genetic Engineering” starting on July 1, 2016; exempting some foods including but not limited to food from 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; requiring the Colorado department of public health and environment to regulate the labeling of genetically modified food; and specifying that no private right of action is created for failure to conform to the labeling requirements?
The full text of the actual ballot proposal (the part that will be made law) can be read here.
It should come as no surprise that the purpose of the proposal, which is written into the actual law, is full of misinformation and deceptive statements. For example, it claims that the long term health, safety, and environmental concerns of GMOs has not been studied. As we know, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Over at Biofortified there are 2,000+ scientific studies showing GMOs are safe for humans and the environment. Further, biotechnology has been fed to our livestock for 20 years without any adverse effects.
The “meat” of the proposal is also concerning. The labeling requirement actually exempts 2/3 of the food produced in Colorado from being labeled. The exemptions include meat, milk, eggs, cheese, chewing gum, food served at restaurants, and food for immediate consumption. But the exemptions are so arbitrary that consumers still won’t know whether or not they’re consuming GMOs. For example, refined sugar from GMO sugar beets has to be labeled, even though the processing eliminates all protein and, hence, all the DNA.
Proposition 105 will also hurt farmers. A giant label on the product will no doubt be misconstrued as a bad thing and consumers in Colorado and across the nation may decide to buy a different non-Colorado brand without the label. That means the market for Colorado produce may dwindle. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see a customer in Arizona choosing a GMO product produced in Nevada that doesn’t have a label over the exact same Colorado product with the label. It will also be costly for farmers that raise both GMO and non-GMO crops, because they will be forced to run parallel operations so as not to mix the products.
In Colorado, it isn’t just conventional farmers that are against the proposal. The Denver Post spoke with James Bertini, an organic farmer, who is afraid of how Prop 105 will effect him:
Bertini, who is a lawyer, has scrutinized the initiative and believes that as written, it will force him, for instance, to label the fresh pasta he buys in bulk from a Denver producer and packages for individual sale.
The honey from boutique apiaries might also need labels, he said. And he’s just not sure about the grass-fed beef, raised on a ranch outside Denver.
The law also includes a criminal penalty, and that is of particular concern to Bertini.
“It bothers me that I could make a mistake on labeling a product that a farmer brings in here and I commit a misdemeanor,” he said.
(Source: The Denver Post.) Making a violation of the mandatory labeling laws a crime is bad enough, but it’s even worse here because Propositoin 105 is confusing and poorly written. It is scary, sad, and completely crazy that labeling supporters would throw a farmer or retailer in jail because they forgot a label telling consumers that the product contains a completely safe ingredient!
In another odd aspect to this story, one of the supporters of Proposition 105 claimed that the vast majority of voters wanted mandatory labeling and predicted the ballot measure would have plenty of signatures by the August deadline. But Food Safety News pointed out that the ballot proposal only made it on the ballot at the very last second, because there were problems getting enough petition signatures! The campaign supporting the measure had to actually paid people to sign the petition. Apparently that is legal in Colorado, but it totally flies in the face of Proposition 105’s efforts to look like a grassroots campaign. How can a ballot proposal be that popular if you have to pay people to get it on the ballot?
Also according to Food Safety News (which isn’t always the most farmer-friendly website), Colorado’s “Blue Book” has included an argument against the labeling law that the mandatory labels would increase food costs. We don’t have “Blue Books” in Michigan, but these are apparently non-partisan summaries of the ballot measures and are considered very reliable. The fact that the guide includes the price increase makes it a credible claim — and definitely a huge strike against Prop 105.
If you’d like more information, you can visit the No on 105 website. Otherwise, Colorado State University’s Extension office has put together this website which discusses the mandatory labeling issue in a generic and non-partisan way. The Denver Chamber of Commerce has also put together this facts sheet, which specifically refers to Proposition 105. The Chamber has taken an opposing position on the proposal, particularly because it would raise food prices, hurt farmers, and create a huge government bureaucracy. You can also click here to find out more reasons to oppose the proposition.
If you’re looking for a visual, check out these campaign videos:
Listen to what Amber Clay, Colorado family farmer and nutrition educator has to say about it: