Grocery Items in Your Ballot Box

20141105_Dollarphotoclub_gmo-labelingDepending on where you live, your grocery store item labels might start looking a little different.

Yesterday, voters in Oregon were given the opportunity to vote on a measure that would directly affect the way foods are labeled in their grocery stores. Voters in Colorado were given a similar proposition. Oregon narrowly failed in its attempt to pass the law and Colorado voted theirs down with authority. So what was it all about?

At the heart of the issue are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). GMOs are products of genetic engineering, which create new traits in items such as food, allowing for greater control over their function and response to chemicals. The overall purpose for manipulating foods in this way is to foster advantageous characteristics in foods that would otherwise not have those particular genes or traits. The laws that were voted on yesterday would have required that all food products containing GMOs to be labeled as such.

The science behind genetically modified foods can be quite complex. Some of the more interesting GMO experiments have included transferring jellyfish genes to potatoes and rat genes to lettuce in order to bolster their survival rate without water and Vitamin C counts, respectively.

In America, GMOs have been consumed for a couple of decades now – whether consumers know it or not. According to National Geographic, “More than 60 percent of all processed foods on U.S. supermarket shelves—including pizza, chips, cookies, ice cream, salad dressing, corn syrup, and baking powder—contain ingredients from engineered soybeans, corn, or canola.”

Those who are pro-GMO see great advantages in these processes and even believe that one day genetically modified foods can be made available to every ecosystem, thus providing a way to feed the world’s growing population. GMO advocates oppose the measure that just failed in Oregon because they believe that labeling a product as a “GMO item” would essentially translate to a skull-and-crossbones for the “uninformed” consumer.

Supporters of Oregon’s measure are mostly anti-GMO proponents who believe every consumer should be able to easily distinguish between GMO and non-GMO products. The reason why they are against GMOs can vary, as issues with chemical-tolerant plant seeds, unnatural genetic manipulation, and detrimental health effects have been cited.

Grocery manufacturers are largely in opposition to the new labeling proposals due to the money and logistics efforts that it would require in order to follow the law on a state-by-state basis. Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont already passed GMO labeling laws before yesterday’s election, but it is estimated that the food industry spent nearly $70 million to defeat similar measures in California and Washington state.

Regardless of where you stand on GMOs, it is helpful to know the facts. A proposal might be coming to your ballot soon! Here are some helpful links to learn more on the subject:

Jeremy Howard

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