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The issue is right to choose.

Byline: The Register-Guard

By now any Oregonian with a television, radio or telephone knows that Measure 92 would require labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. They know because proponents and opponents have raised $17.2 million to tell voters how important it is that the measure be approved or defeated, making it the most expensive campaign in Oregon history. The spending totals $7.94 per registered voter, with more to come.

Both sides obviously believe the stakes are high and see the importance of Measure 92 as extending beyond Oregon. Most of the money has come from out of state, with opponents raising about twice as much money as supporters.

In their advertisements, it often seems as though the two sides are talking about different ballot measures. Opponents hope to persuade voters that Measure 92 is poorly worded, burdens farmers and would increase food costs. Supporters aim to raise doubts about the safety of foods containing GMOs and focus on people's right to know what's in the food they eat.

Behind the conflicting messages are different views of food and agriculture in the 21st century. From the perspective of the opponents of labeling, GMOs are a key part of the effort to keep hunger at bay as the world's population grows to 9 billion. From the perspective of the measure's supporters, GMOs represent a wrong turn toward increased reliance on herbicides, pesticides and fossil fuels, taking agriculture in a direction that cannot be sustained.

Similarly contrasting perspectives are found on the issue of whether foods containing GMOs are safe. Their defenders point out that no adverse health effects on humans have been proven, and go on to say that GMOs have been a big part of the American diet long enough for any problems to have become apparent by now. Their critics doubt the validity of safety studies conducted to date and claim that positive proof of safety is lacking.

Fortunately, Oregon voters don't need to settle either question before making a decision on Measure 92. Neither the safety of GMOs nor their role in feeding the world are the real issues. What's at stake is consumers' right to know. Grocery shoppers who accept reassurances that GMOs are safe might still choose to avoid them, because they'd prefer to vote with their dollars for different farming practices. Others, seeing that an estimated 70 percent of foods on their supermarket shelves contain GMOs, might conclude that avoiding them is too much trouble, but their choice would be an informed one.

The right to know will become increasingly important in the years to come. GMOs are already ubiquitous, mainly because of the prevalence of GMO corn and soy. But the science of genetic engineering is moving forward at an accelerating rate - more genes will be inserted in more foods to provide desired disease resistance, growth rates, color, drought tolerance, nutritional content, flavor, immunity to damage by pesticides and other characteristics. As the alterations become more exotic and ambitious, the need for labeling will grow.

People in 64 countries already have the information on their food labels that Measure 92 would require in Oregon.

The weakest argument against Measure 92 is that labels would scare or confuse consumers. The implication is that people are incapable of deciding for themselves what foods to eat. Treating the public like infants is never good public policy. People should be given the information they need to make their own decisions about GMOs, whatever the reasons for those decisions may be.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Oct 22, 2014
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