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Whats in a label? Engineered food protections are already in place

Oregon is a great place to live and raise a family. It's a place where folks with lots of points of view can live together peacefully, and if they agree on nothing else, it's that Oregon is a place we love.

One of the many reasons to love Oregon is that people are determined to do it their own way and often stand independent from the rest of the nation. This approach has created a state where there are more small businesses than any other, and where environmental laws put animals and ecosystems before profits.

It's in that can-do spirit that Measure 27, which calls for the labeling of genetically engineered food, was created. It is our drive to protect our own and ensure a high quality of life that makes it seem like this ballot measure could be a good idea.

The problem with Measure 27 is that it's a solution without a problem.

All Americans, especially Oregonians, already have the ability to choose food that does not contain genetically engineered ingredients. The National Organic Program allows farmers who produce products without the aid of many modern techniques and chemicals, including genetically engineered seeds, to communicate that choice to consumers through labeling.

In addition to the organic program, there also is a network of federal regulations and agencies that require safety evaluations of genetically engineered ingredients before they are consumed.

Genetically engineered ingredients are reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure that they are at least as safe as existing foods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture ensures that crops are grown in a way that keeps the overall food supply healthful.

The Environmental Protection Agency also gets into the act when genetic engineering is used as a way of reducing the amount of pesticides. So far, this safety net of scientists, federal agencies and mandatory testing requirements has kept the U.S. food supply safe, abundant and inexpensive.

The food supply in the United States already is well-protected, and choices are available to those who do not want to eat genetically engineered products.

So, what effect would Measure 27 have?

Measure 27, if enacted, would raise the cost of food for all Oregonians. Estimates vary, but just the implementation costs of Measure 27 may be as much as $550 per family per year. This estimate assumes that food producers will even bother to continue to sell products in Oregon. If the cost of the labeling exceeds the profits, grocery shelves may quickly become bare, and those products on the shelves may cost more than they do now.

Measure 27 requires labeling of products grown in Oregon using genetic engineering and shipped outside of the state. This will put Oregon farmers at a significant disadvantage when selling their products in other states.

Finally, our precious tax dollars will be siphoned away from schools and pressing public health issues to duplicate regulatory activities already handled at the federal level.

Oregon has been a national leader in the organic movement, and Oregonians have more food choices than most other Americans. In addition, all Americans benefit from the network of regulations in place at the federal level.

There's no reason to burden the state with additional regulatory responsibilities that will cost tax dollars to implement. There's no reason to make Oregon a difficult state for companies to sell products. There's no reason to put our own farmers at an economic disadvantage. And there's no reason to raise the cost of food for everyone in the state.

In short, there's no reason to pass Measure 27.

Mya Thomae is a consultant for FDA regulations. She lives in Southeast Portland.