Oregon Right to Know is a non-partisan, grassroots initiative to label genetically engineered foods sold in grocery stores, also termed genetically modified organisms or GMOs.
Over 85% of genetically engineered foods produced in the world are engineered by chemical companies to resist huge amounts of their pesticides, which raises health and environmental concerns for many consumers.
GMOs are plants or animals that have had their DNA artificially altered in a lab with genes from other plants, animals, viruses or bacteria in order to produce foreign compounds in that food. For example, genes from bacteria are inserted into sweet corn so it can produce it’s own pesticide to kill bugs as well as resist high doses of weed killer.
Another example is a salmon produced from DNA that has been spliced with genes from an eel-like fish and growth hormone so it grows twice as fast as actual salmon.
This is a very different technique than traditional plant hybridization or animal breeding.
The vast majority of Oregonians want labels on genetically engineered foods so we can make our own decisions about what we eat and feed our families.
Genetically engineered food can be legally patented and under current law the company that creates it legally owns it forever. This means that farmers can’t save seeds for future crops. Each year they have to buy the seeds from the company that owns them. Currently 3 companies own over 50% of the world’s seed supply.
Most genetically engineered foods available on the market today have been engineered by chemical companies to be resistant to their pesticides.
For example, Monsanto is the maker of the worlds most widely used pesticide, RoundUp.
The genetically engineered seeds that Monsanto sells to farmers are “RoundUp Ready,” which means they are resistant to RoundUp. Farmers of GMO crops now just spray the whole field with weed killer without worrying about killing their crop. All this over spraying is building up residues in our foods.
Over time, some weeds have become resistant to the pesticides (often called “super weeds”) so farmers are encouraged to buy larger amounts and more toxic types of pesticides from the chemical companies. Chemical companies are now developing genetically engineered crops that will resist even stronger and more toxic pesticides, like 2,4 D the main ingredient in Agent Orange.
Common genetically engineered foods in grocery stores now are corn, soy, canola, sugar (made from GMO sugar beets), and the products made from them including syrup, cooking oil, and high fructose corn syrup that are common in the American diet.
New GMO foods in the pipeline include GMO salmon with eel-like genes and growth hormones and GMO apples that never brown.
The Argument for Labeling
Oregon’s state motto, chosen all those years ago, still describes our states spirit – “She flies with her own wings”. Oregonians value self-reliance and independence, and that means we also value healthy farms, clean water, and our abundant food sources. We place a priority on personal freedom and individual choice in how we live our lives. And as well informed citizens we like to make our own choices. That’s why so many Oregonians are asking for labeling of GMO foods.
We have a right to know important information about the food we eat and feed our families – such as sugar and sodium levels, whether flavors are natural or artificial, and if fish is wild or farm-raised. We should also have the right to choose whether we want to buy and eat genetically modified (GMO) food, just like 64 other countries already do.
Labeling GMO foods would assist shoppers who are concerned about the potential effects of increased pesticides and herbicides to make informed purchasing decisions at the store.
The Oregon Right to Know initiative is about transparency and empowering shoppers. This is not a ban on genetically modified food and this is not a debate on the science. It’s about consumers getting the information we need to make our own decisions about the food we feed our families. Give us the information and we will make our own decisions.
Over 85% of genetically engineered foods produced in the world are created by chemical companies to resist pesticides. This raises health and environmental concerns for many consumers.
Labeling genetically engineered foods would assist shoppers who are concerned about the potential effects of increased pesticide use on food to make informed purchasing decisions at the store.
The Oregon Right to Know initiative is about transparency and empowering shoppers. This is not a ban on genetically modified food and this is not a debate on the science. It’s about access to information so consumers can make our own decisions. Provide us the information, and we can trust ourselves to make our own decisions about the foods we want to eat.
Who Supports Labeling
The Oregon Right to Know campaign is a grassroots, volunteer-driven effort that has supporters in cities across the state of Oregon. Voters from all walks of life support Oregon Right to Know including: farmers, moms and dads, educators, doctors, food producers, scientists, nutritionists, gardeners, birders, restaurateurs, , conservationists, and many more.
Chipotle Restaurants made the decision to voluntarily disclose the presence of GMO ingredients in their menu items.
General Mills recently said they would stop using GMO ingredients in their iconic Cheerios cereal; Grape Nuts soon followed suit.
Whole Foods announced that all products in its North American stores that contain genetically modified ingredients would be labeled by 2018.
Many grocery store chains, including Safeway and Kroger, have stated they will not sell genetically modified salmon.
A victory in Oregon this November will give Oregonians important information about the food we eat. Information that is impossible to get in any other way. GMO crops look exactly the same as the crops made by Mother Nature, so a label is the only possible way consumers can know what’s in our food. Winning here in Oregon will also send a strong signal to the food industry that shoppers value transparency and the right to know whether the food they purchase has been genetically engineered.
Will Labeling Raise the Cost of Food?
Label updates are a routine part of business for the food industry and independent studies have shown changing a label does not result in increased food costs. Our new labeling law will give the food industry plenty of time to plan for their label changes so there are no additional costs.
Scott Faber, a former vice-president and lobbyist for the Grocery Manufacturers Association wrote in The Huffington Post:
“What I also learned is that adding a few words to a label has no impact on the price of making or selling food. That’s because food manufacturers are constantly changing their labels to highlight product innovations or to make health claims. Although it varies from product to product, the average “refresh” cycle for a food label is about a year. Adding the words “may contain genetically engineered ingredients” will add as much to the cost of making food as adding the words ‘can help reduce cholesterol’ — nothing.”
Who Else Labels
There are currently 64 countries around the world that require the labeling of genetically engineered foods. This includes all nations in the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia, India and even China.
Most major food producers in America already label their products with GMO ingredients for foreign markets, and we deserve the same access to information here in the US.
GMO labeling requirements like the Oregon Right to Know initiative promote and protect economic development while enabling shoppers to make informed purchasing decisions.
Genetically Engineered Foods Coming To Stores Unlabeled
The Oregon Right to Know initiative would give shoppers more information about the food they purchase at the grocery store. Currently Oregon shoppers have no way of knowing for certain if the foods they buy and feed their families contain genetically engineered ingredients.
That’s why the consumer watchdog group Consumer Reports supports measures to label genetically engineered foods. “At the very least, consumers have the right to know what they’re eating,” said Michael Hansen, Ph.D., senior scientist at Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.
The majority of food products that would be labeled under the Oregon Right to Know initiative would be processed foods such as chips, cold cereals, soft drinks, and candy. But there are also genetically engineered whole foods such as salmon, apples, and ears of sweet corn that would be labeled under the Oregon Right to Know initiative.
Genetically Engineered Crops & Increased Use Of Pesticides
The large agricultural and chemical companies, like Monsanto and Dow, that create and market genetically engineered crops often say that these crops increase yield and reduce the need for farmers to use pesticides. However, new research indicates this is not always the case.
According to Reuters, a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) found that genetically engineered seeds have do not definitively increase yield potentials. The study also found that herbicide use on genetically engineered corn is on the rise and that the over reliance on herbicides like Monsanto’s RoundUp has led to an increase in weed resistance, which in turn requires more use of herbicides.
Because of the increase in weed resistance, new genetically engineered seeds are being developed to withstand harsher chemicals. Earlier this year, the USDA said it was leaning toward allowing the commercial sale of new genetically engineered seeds being developed by Dow Agrosciences. According to the Des Moines Register, “The seeds are genetically engineered to resist several herbicides including one known as 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange used by the U.S. military during Vietnam.”
To learn more about the increased use of pesticides associated with genetically engineered crops, we recommend reading the following articles:
- “Pesticides Make A Comeback”, The Wall Street Journal, 5/21/13
- “As Biotech Seed Falters, Insecticide Use Surges In Corn Belt”, NPR, 7/9/13
- “GMO Crops Mean More Herbicide, Not Less”, Forbes, 7/2/13
- “Pesticide Use Ramping Up As GMO Crop Technology Backfires: Study”, Reuters, 10/1/12
Genetically Engineered Salmon
Genetically engineered salmon is on the fast track towards becoming the first genetically engineered animal to reach grocery store shelves. AquaBounty’s genetically engineered salmon are created in a laboratory by combining genes from Pacific Chinook salmon and an eel-like Ocean Pout and inserting them into the genome of Atlantic salmon. The addition of anti-freeze DNA and a growth hormone gene from these other fish allows the genetically engineered Atlantic salmon to grow nearly twice as fast.
Safeway, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe’s and other supermarket chains have announced they will not carry genetically engineered salmon. However, when the FDA approves genetically engineered salmon, there will be no requirement it be labeled as such. The Oregon Right to Know initiative would require that genetically engineered fish be labeled.
Genetically Engineered Corn
Right now 90 percent of the corn grown in the United States is genetically engineered and much of it ends up in processed foods. In 2012, Monsanto introduced genetically engineered sweet corn that had been designed to produce its own insecticide. Sweet corn is the type of corn that you eat on the cob — and it is being sold in grocery stores without any labels.
Under the Oregon Right to Know initiative, processed foods containing genetically engineered corn and ears of genetically engineered sweet corn in the produce section of the grocery store would have to labeled in order to provide transparency to shoppers.
Genetically Engineered Apples
The USDA is currently reviewing a bid from Canada’s Okanogan Specialty Fruit to introduce the Arctic Apple – an apple genetically engineered not to brown. The U.S. Apple Association has voiced opposition to the Arctic Apple by noting that “browning is a natural process related to the exposure to oxygen.”
If producers of the Artic Apple receive federal approval, company officials have indicated the genetically engineered apples could reach grocery stores sometime in 2015. There would also be no requirement that the apples be labeled as genetically engineered. The Oregon Right to Know initiative would require that Arctic Apples be labeled so shoppers know what they’re buying at the grocery store.