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Colorado Says No As GMO Labeling Continues To Stumble On Ballots

Luke Runyon
KUNC and Harvest Public Media

An effort to label genetically modified foods in Colorado has failed to garner enough support.

Voters in Colorado rejected the labeling of foods that contain the derivatives of genetically modified - or GMO - crops with 68 percent voting against, versus 32 percent in favor of  Proposition 105.

Polling prior to the vote in Colorado was scarce. The polls that were conducted found Colorado’s measure faced an uphill battle in the final weeks before the election. A Suffolk University poll found only 29 percent of registered voters favored the measure, while 49 percent were likely to vote against it. A Denver Post poll was even more damning. According to that poll, 59 percent were opposed to GMO labeling, 34 percent in favor and 8 percent were uncertain.

The campaign group opposed to GMO labeling spent millions to quash the ballot measures and sway public opinion, spending more than $15 million in Colorado. Most of that money came from large seed corporations like Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer, and processed food companies like Pepsi, Land O’ Lakes and Smucker’s.

“The reality is campaigns cost money and I’m really proud to say that groups like Smucker’s, like Pepsi, stood shoulder to to shoulder with the farmers that are growing their ingredients,” says Chad Vorthmann, executive vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, which also contributed to the No on 105 campaign.

Colorado’s Proposition 105 would’ve required food companies to label packaged foods with the text “produced with genetic engineering.” Many processed foods contain soybean oil, corn syrup, refined sugar and cottonseed oil. Those oils and syrups are often derived from GMO crops that farmers have been quick to adopt over the last 18 years. Few whole foods, like the ones you see in the produce aisle, are genetically engineered, though some GE varieties of sweet corn, squash and papaya are approved for sale in the U.S.

The failed measure in Colorado follows a trend. Similar ballot questions in California and Washington state have been rejected in 2012 and 2013, respectively. A GMO labeling law passed through the Vermont legislature in 2014. A coalition of biotech firms and farmer groups filed a lawsuit against Vermont’s GMO labeling requirements soon after they became law.

The down vote isn’t likely to alter the debate around genetically modified crops. A national voluntary standard was proposed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, with members like Kraft and Pepsi, earlier in 2014. It’s yet to gain any significant traction at the federal level.

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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