PORTLAND — Oregon voters on Tuesday rejected the labeling of genetically modified foods following the most expensive ballot measure campaign in state history.
Residents voted down an initiative by Oregon GMO Right to Know that would have required manufacturers, retailers and suppliers to label raw or packaged foods produced entirely or partially by genetic engineering. The packaging would have included the words “Produced With Genetic Engineering” or “Partially Produced With Genetic Engineering.”
The two campaigns subjected Oregonians to thousands of commercials this fall, and recycling bins were filled with ads mailed from each side.
Colorado voters on Tuesday also rejected mandatory labels on many genetically modified foods, known as GMOs.
Critics of the labeling measures in both states included some of the world’s largest food producers.
In Oregon, opponents raised about $20 million to prevent the labels from appearing on grocery store shelves. Though the labels were not a warning, they feared the words would spook consumers.
The campaign to pass Measure 92 surpassed $7.5 million in donations.
Elsewhere, the Vermont Legislature approved a labeling bill that’s set to take effect in 2016. And scores of other countries have GMO labeling laws, including the entire European Union.
Over the past two years, proposals to require GMO labeling have failed in neighboring California and Washington. Oregon voters also have defeated a labeling measure, but that was in 2002, when the issue was less on the public radar.
Earlier this year, voters in two rural Oregon counties approved bans on genetically engineered crops, providing evidence that the issue has gained traction outside liberal Portland.
The votes in Jackson and Josephine counties came on the heels of the discovery of a patch of GMO wheat in Eastern Oregon, a finding that led Japan and South Korea to temporarily suspend imports of the crop.
The use of genetically engineered crops has soared in the 21st Century. For example, herbicide-tolerant soybean crops have gone from 17 percent of all acreage in 1997 to 94 percent in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Likewise, the acreage of herbicide-tolerant corn has jumped from less than 20 percent at the turn of the century to about 90 percent today.
Though genetically engineered crops are common and no mainstream science has shown they are unsafe, opponents contend GMOs are still experimental and promote the use of pesticides. They say more testing is needed and people have a right to know what’s in their food.
According to results this morning from the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, the no votes had 50.61 percent and yes votes 49.39.