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Vote for food labeling in Oregon

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Source: The Campaign.

Vote for food labeling

October 15

Oregonian column by Brian Rohter

The barrage has begun. We're in the midst of being subjected to hundreds of political ads, costing millions of dollars to run, paid for by corporations that are not headquartered in Oregon.

International food companies like Nestle, Proctor & Gamble, General Mills and Kellogg have suddenly become very interested in a state ballot measure. A group of multinational chemical and biotechnology companies, such as Monsanto, have contributed several million dollars to insert themselves into Oregon state politics.

The purpose of this onslaught? These food, chemical and bio-technology companies, in a desperate attempt to recover their research and development costs and to improve their bottom line (after having most of Europe reject their experimental products), are trying to convince us that the cost of food will skyrocket if Oregonians approve Measure 27, the initiative that requires the labeling of genetically engineered foods.

As an Oregon grocer I can tell you that this is just not true.

What are the facts?

Measure 27 is simple. It requires that any products grown, manufactured, processed or sold in Oregon that contain genetically engineered ingredients be labeled. Its purpose is to allow Oregonians to know what is in the food that we feed our families.

What arguments do these industrialized agribusiness and chemical companies raise against this right to choose initiative?

First, they tell us that there's nothing different about genetically engineered foods; therefore, there's no reason to label them. This argument doesn't have much credibility coming from Monsanto and the other seed companies that have managed to obtain patents on these genetically engineered products. How can genetically engineered soy be so unique that it is patentable but not so unique that it doesn't need to be labeled?

Second, they claim that the initiative will cost the consumers and taxpayers "millions and millions" of dollars. This is the same theory that was promoted in the early 1990s when the industry groups rallied to try and avoid putting nutritional labeling on our food products. I don't remember any price increases as a result of these rules that have had so much value to the consumer.

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It was also the same argument that was used to try and defeat Oregon's bottle bill over 30 years ago. I appreciate the lack of litter on our streets and highways and haven't noticed that soda pop costs more in Oregon than it does in Washington.

I'd suggest the opponents of Measure 27 contact the grocery retailers in the United Kingdom where the mandatory labeling has already been implemented. They would find out that Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury and other retailers were able to transition to the labeling program incurring minimal or in some instances no cost.

Third, the opponents argue that the scope of the ballot measure is too broad, claiming that the labeling requirements would apply to "restaurant food" and "food sold at church bake sales." Not true. Measure 27 does not impact food "served", whether in restaurants, schools, hospitals or church bake sales.

For many, food is connected to religion, culture, ethical concerns and the environment. For everyone, food choices are connected to health. Isn't it time we assert our rights to be kept adequately informed on a subject so critical to all of us? I believe in full disclosure labeling. I believe in our right to choose. I want to be able to offer that choice to my customers. For yourself, your family and for future generations, please join me in voting Yes on Measure 27.

Brian Rohter is president of New Seasons Market, which has four branches in the Portland area.

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