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National Push To Label GMOs Comes To Colorado Ballot

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Luke Runyon
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KUNC and Harvest Public Media
A "March Against Monsanto" rally last May in Denver, where activists called for GMO labeling legislation.

Colorado voters will decide in November whether foods containing genetically modified ingredients should be labeled in the state, after an initiative officially garnered enough signatures to go on the ballot.

The ballot initiative comes on the heels of unsuccessful labeling initiatives in Washington and California, and a successful GMO labeling bill that was passed in Vermont.

Colorado Right To Know, the group behind the labeling initiative, says that Americans have a right to know what is in their food, and the effort is about transparency.

"All of our food already has labels on it. They list the ingredients. How hard would it be to say, 'This contains GMOs?,'" Larry Cooper, an organizer for the group, told KUNC reporter Luke Runyon.

Those opposing GMOs have been criticized for stretching the truth over their potential harms, although prominent food author and activist Michael Pollan has said that the issue is not about the health impacts of modified crops, but about people wanting to know more about where their food comes from.

On the other side, those against labeling efforts say that labeling foods containing genetically modified crops would cause food prices to rise, and cause confusion among consumers.

California's ballot initiative, which lost 53 to 47 percent in a 2012 vote, was criticized for being confusingly written. A similar proposal on the Washington ballot in 2013 also lost by a wide margin.

In both of those battles, companies that develop such crops and large food corporations that use them as ingredients spent significant amounts of money to defeat the initiatives. In California, those opposed to labeling raised $45.9 million, and those in favor $9.4 million. Big money may come to Colorado for this fight as well.

In the Northeast, however, the effort to label foods with genetically modified ingredients is going in the opposite direction. Two states, Connecticut and Rhode Island, passed laws requiring labeling once enough other states also required it.

Vermont's legislature passed a bill requiring labels on foods with genetically modified organisms in them in 2014. The state has been sued over the bill, which is scheduled to take effect in 2016. The groups suing the state argue the law violates their First Amendment rights since it requires them to label a product in a way they find misleading and unnecessary, reported the Burlington Free Press.

In Colorado, the group behind the ballot initiative collected 171,387 signatures and 124,905 were deemed valid – well above the 86,105 needed to get an initiative on the ballot.

The measure, if passed, would exempt pet food, foods prescribed as medicines, alcohol, and foods from animals fed or injected with genetically modified foods or drugs.

Oregon will also have a similar initiative on the ballot for November 2014.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn has been reporting from Colorado for more than five years, primarily from the Western Slope.
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