Labels are common sense

TWO VIEWS • Food-labeling measure asks Oregonians to decide whether information is power or a source of confusion and costs

Ballot Measure 27 requires the labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. Genetically engineered, or GE, food is defined as food that has been grown or processed by means not possible under natural conditions, such as inserting a gene from one species into another.

It's a simple labeling law Ñ but Oregonians are facing an unprecedented, reportedly $6 million media blitz to convince them that it is just too expensive and too difficult to put this information in small print on a label. Poll after poll says that more than 90 percent of Americans, including Oregonians, want genetically engineered foods labeled, yet overseas companies spend millions to try to convince us we shouldn't have this information.

Their ads claim that Ballot Measure 27 would raise food costs and greatly expand the expenses of governmental agencies that will have the responsibility to implement this measure.

However, opponents of Measure 27 use 'estimates' that are highly inflated. This sleight of hand is done by including costs to monitor restaurants, schools and other locations that serve food directly. The measure is intended only for food sold in grocery stores and in wholesale outlets, where labels and ingredient information is already routinely presented.

When these phantom costs are removed, the amount comes to less than 71 cents per Oregonian per year.

Labeling genetically engineered foods has been commonplace elsewhere. American food companies already segregate and/or label GE foods for major U.S. companies, such as Trader Joe's, as well as for export.

They comply with differing laws in the European Union, New Zealand, Japan, China, Australia and Korea, among other nations. Labeling GE foods did not raise food prices in these nations Ñ in fact, Australians can buy their U.S.-made, GE labeled Heinz macaroni and beef more cheaply (even allowing for the difference in currency rates) than we can buy the same product in our stores.

What about the effect of labeling on farmers? Almost all food crops grown by Oregon farmers are grown with conventional seed Ñ not genetically engineered seed. Exports make up a significant percentage of Oregon's agricultural economy. Our state Department of Agriculture already has begun implementing guidelines to assist with GE labeling for the export of Oregon agricultural products.

With so many nations requiring labeling of genetically engineered foods, Measure 27 could actually help Oregon farmers market their agricultural products.

Measure 27 leaves the implementation (including timeline) and administration of the labeling program in the hands of the Oregon Legislature and the Department of Agriculture. This flexibility allows a measured and economical implementation process to avoid straining government resources.

Measure 27 does not seek to ban biotechnology. If biotechnology creates a better food product, then why not identify it, put it on the shelf and let the consumer and the marketplace determine the desirability of these products?

You can now pick up any product on the grocery shelf and find out the food value, the fat, sugar and caloric content, as well as the list of ingredients in the product. That's the beauty of the American free enterprise system and the fundamental basis of free choice. But it can't happen in an information vacuum!

Measure 27 is the result of a local, citizen-driven effort. Signatures of more than 100,000 Oregonians helped to put this measure on the ballot. Measure 27 is a common-sense way to give people information they want when buying food for themselves and their families. It is fair, it is practical, and it is simply about free choice Ñ our right to know what's in the food we eat.

Katelyn Lord is the co-chief petitioner for Measure 27. She lives in Tualatin.