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​GMO labeling effort in Colorado scores win in state Supreme Court

Published time: March 19, 2014 22:51
Edited time: March 21, 2014 08:58
Employees stock shelves near a sign supporting non genetically modified organisms (GMO) (AFP Photo / Jason Redmond)

Employees stock shelves near a sign supporting non genetically modified organisms (GMO) (AFP Photo / Jason Redmond)

An effort to put a ballot initiative in front of Colorado voters regarding the labeling of genetically modified foods was allowed to proceed after the state Supreme Court dismissed a challenge by biotech and food industry outfits.

For Initiative #48 to make it on the November ballot, supporters must now gather 86,105 petition signatures and turn them into the state by early August, according to Right to Know Colorado GMO. The grassroots group, which is responsible for the initiative, is made up of local farmers, organic food retailers, consumer advocates, and citizens concerned with the “basic right to know what is in our food and what we are feeding our families.”

"We are pleased that the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the GMO labeling ballot title, and we look forward to bringing a GMO labeling initiative before the voters of Colorado this fall," said Larry Cooper of Right to Know.

In a filing with the state Supreme Court, the Rocky Mountain Food Industry Association’s Mary Lou Chapman challenged the ballot initiative for being misleading, according to Natural Products Insider. Chapman did not return NPI’s request for comment on the Court’s decision.

Initiative #48 would mandate that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) come with packaging that announces “Produced With Genetic Engineering” by July 1, 2016.

The only exceptions to the labeling rules would include food or drink made for animals, chewing gum, alcoholic beverages, medically-prescribed food, foods subject to labeling only for its modified processing aids or enzymes, food not packaged for retail sale that is either processed or served by a restaurant with the intention of immediate consumption, and “food consisting entirely of or from an animal that has not been genetically engineered even if the animal was fed with food that was produced through genetic engineering or any drug that was produced through genetic engineering.”

Distributors, manufacturers, and retailers that fail to properly label GMO food would be subject to the state’s misbranding statute and could face criminal prosecution, according to documents filed with the Colorado Supreme Court.

The Center for Food Safety says dozens of states are considering GMO labeling laws on some level, as there is no federal labeling standard. Polling suggests over 90 percent of Americans would prefer GMO ingredients in consumables to be labeled to some extent.

Recent ballot measures seeking a labeling mandate failed in California and Washington state, though not without major efforts by the most powerful biotech and industry players, such as Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Supporters of GMOs say adverse effects of food products which come from the manipulation of an organism’s genetic material are unproven at this point.

Yet science is also inconclusive on whether genetically engineered products cannot cause long-term harm to human health. At least, that is the consensus held by the several dozen countries which have banned or severely restricted their use worldwide.

“While risk assessments are conducted as part of GE product approval, the data are generally supplied by the company seeking approval, and GE companies use their patent rights to exercise tight control over research on their products,” the Union of Concerned Scientists said about GMOs. “In short, there is a lot we don't know about the risks of GE - which is no reason for panic, but a good reason for caution.”

According to the US Department of Agriculture, in 2013, GMO crops were planted on about 169 million acres of land in the US — or about half of all farmland from coast to coast.

The vast majority of conventional processed foods in the US are made with genetically modified ingredients. Around 93 percent of all soybean crops planted in the US last year involved genetically modified, herbicide-tolerant (HT) variants, the USDA has acknowledged, and HT corn and HT cotton constituted about 85 and 82 percent of total acreage, respectively.

“HT crops are able to tolerate certain highly effective herbicides, such as glyphosate, allowing adopters of these varieties to control pervasive weeds more effectively,”reads an excerpt from a recent USDA report.

As those weed-killers are dumped into more and more fields containing HT crops, however, USDA experts say it could have a major, as yet uncertain impact on the environment.

Alarms surrounding the potentially irrevocable damage that GMO crops pose to the environment have been echoed by many researchers in the face of industry studies that insist GMOs are safe for humans and other living organisms.

Nassim Taleb, professor of risk engineering at New York University and author of best-sellers 'The Black Swan' and 'Fooled by Randomness,' recently said that GMOs have a very real ability to cause "an irreversible termination of life at some scale, which could be the planet." Taleb’s thesis basically stems from the fact that GMOs come from laboratory alterations rather than natural processes, and that humans cannot understand that with each modified seed, the potential for “total ecocide” increases.

"There is no comparison between the [bottom-up] tinkering of selective breeding and the top-down engineering of taking a gene from an organism and putting it into another,” Taleb and colleagues say in a draft of their research.

"The planet took about close to zero risks of ecocide in trillions of variations over 3 billion years, otherwise we would not have been here."