Despite losses in California and Washington, groups in favor of labeling food containing or consisting of genetically modified organisms (“GMO”) continue legislative efforts at the state and national level. Oregon and Colorado appear to be the next states to vote on the issue of whether food containing GMOs should be labeled. Pro-labeling groups are also seeking federal laws that would require labeling of GMOs.
Initiative 27, a ballot initiative in Oregon that would require the labeling of GMO food, recently survived a challenge in the Oregon Supreme Court. On December 2, 2013, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed that Initiative 27 complied with the Oregon Constitution’s procedural requirements, and was therefore properly certified by the Oregon Attorney General and Secretary of State. This allows supporters of the initiative to begin gathering the 87,213 signatures required by July 3, 2014, to place Initiative 27 on the 2014 General Election ballot. As currently written, Initiative 27 would require food offered for retail sale that is entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering to disclose that information on a label. In the absence of such a disclosure, the food would be considered misbranded under Oregon law and any injured person would be allowed to bring a lawsuit against the food manufacturer, supplier, or retailer.
Colorado has a similar initiative that may appear on its ballot in 2014. Ballot proposal 48, styled as a right-to-know law, would consider food produced with genetic engineering to be misbranded unless it is properly labeled with the phrase “produced with genetic engineering” on the food’s packaging. The law would exempt animal feed, chewing gum, alcoholic beverages, and food prepared for immediate consumption from the labeling requirements. The title of the law was recently established, allowing proponents of the measure to begin collecting signatures in support. Approximately 86,105 signatures will be needed by August 2014 for the measure to appear on the ballot. A challenge to the ballot initiative is pending, however. A hearing related to the challenge will take place on December 18, 2013.
Arizona might be the third state to have a similar GMO labeling initiative on the 2014 ballot. Currently, the organization Label GMOs Arizona is sponsoring an initiative that would amend Arizona law so that GMO food would be required to be labeled. Similar to the proposed laws in Oregon and Colorado, unlabeled food containing GMOs would be misbranded under state law.
In addition to state-level initiatives, anti-GMO groups are pressuring federal lawmakers to pass national legislation that would require labeling of GMOs. Senator Boxer and Representative DeFazio have introduced identical bills in the Senate (Bill 809) and House (Bill 1699) that would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to deem misbranded any food that has been genetically engineered or contains one or more genetically engineered ingredients, unless such information appears on a label. Such federal GMO labeling legislation would preempt state labeling laws. The federal labeling initiatives are still in their infancy, however, and neither has passed through the relevant Committee.