New federal guidelines for country of origin labeling took effect Friday. For the first two years retailers may voluntarily label a list of produce, including red meat, fish, fruits and vegetables. Notably, the list does not include poultry. Beef and pork producers fear they may lose market share to low-cost poultry imports.
Labeling is also a big concern on another front.
The U.S. has threatened to haul the EU before the world court if it doesn't lift its stringent rules restricting imports of biotech food. The EU requires g-m-o food to be labeled. American trade officials contend the labels are non-tariff trade barriers. Ironically though, U.S. trade officials could be flanked by voters in a state known for its independence and innovation.
Food is an integral part of the Oregon culture and economy. So too is politics. Oregonians are civic enthusiasts. They actively petition one another to place a spectrum of questions on the state's election ballot. And they participate in forums like this to debate the merits of ballot issues ranging from whether to ease restrictions on who can make dental appliances to raising the minimum wage to universal health care for Oregonians. This year the eclectic ballot even offers a proposal to hold a primary for petitioners, sort of one stop shopping for all those with a cause they want to place on the ballot via the petition process.
But the issue that is drawing the most interest this year, especially from outside the state is measure 27. In brief the proposal seeks to require all food, raw or processed, containing as little as 1-tenth of one percent of genetically modified ingredients to be labeled. If enacted Oregon would be the first state to require G-M-O labeling.
At first glance, it would seem measure 27 is likely to become law. An October poll conducted for the Portland Oregonian shows 58 percent of probable voters favor the measure while 36 percent oppose it, and notably only 5 percent are undecided about the issue.
But, money is pouring into the state to fight the proposition. At last official count opponents of measure 27 had raised more than 4.6 million dollars, most of it from out of state.
Pacing sound bite from campaign commercial: " It's a complex misleading labeling scheme which no other state requires."
Befitting its name, The Coalition Against the Costly Labeling Law insists the cost of administering it would be enormous and economically devastating.
Pat McCormick, The Coalition Against The Costly Labeling Law: " from a consumer's standpoint the costs relate to the system of trying to segregate and document crops from the seed source to where they're sold or served. And that separate system, the economic analysis that the campaign had done showed the cost of about $550 for an average family of four in Oregon. .
Proponents of the measure, including the CEO of a growing Portland food chain dismiss such concerns.
Brian Rohter, New Seasons Markets: ".. I really just don't believe it. I think that the opposition is concerned that if people have this information they will choose not to buy the product. That is what their concern is and they've made huge, huge investments in developing these products. They've been pretty much shut down in the EU and they don't want to see it happen here and so I think that's their motivation."
Because Oregonians vote by mail over a period of several weeks, the campaign is likely to become more intense in the coming days.