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Oregon consumers deserve clarity about GMOs in food

There are so many things that consumers have no control over regarding their food supply: selection of seed varieties, use of chemicals, safety of handling, storage, transportation and cost. In Measure 92, they are asking for one simple piece of control: information about whether a given food product contains genetically modified organisms.

It’s unfair that consumers should have to go through a gauntlet of fact-finding to determine if their food is safe to eat. Many people have legitimate concerns about the effects that genetically modified foods and the pesticides sprayed on them may have on the health of their families, as well as on the environment that supports the health of all of us.

Consumers who want to make informed choices have no way to find out if food products contain GMOs, but the companies that produce and market the products do. Customers are asking that the companies share that information so they can make their own purchasing decisions. That doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.

Measure 92 is actually pretty simple. It only applies to a class of foods that are already required to be labeled and doesn’t create any new categories or any new layers of government oversight. Producers are simply required to state on the label if the product contains GMOs. There is no certification required and no governmental monitoring. If producers don’t tell the truth, they can be sued under existing truth-in-advertising laws. A person bringing suit can only recover attorney’s fees, rather than damages, to discourage frivolous lawsuits and ensure compliance.

The cost of compliance will be miniscule at best. The same producers who are fighting this measure already label their products in 64 other countries. Those countries did not experience any perceptible change in food costs when requirements went into effect. An economic analysis done by ECONorthwest calculated the hypothetical cost to consumers in Oregon and found it to be $2.30 per year. That’s a small price for valuable information.

There are so many things that are complex about producing the food we eat. This measure isn’t one of them. It is carefully crafted to do only what it purports to do and nothing more. It provides crucial information on one classification of foods, which consumers need to make informed decisions about how to feed themselves and their families. A ballot measure can only affect one issue at a time, so it doesn’t attempt to solve all problems in the food system at once. It is not burdensome or costly for those who make or sell the products.

It’s a simple request from concerned citizens: Let us know what’s in our food.

Let’s give ourselves this one small piece of control over our own lives. There’s really nothing to lose. Except $2.30.

Jan Castle is a resident of Lake Oswego.

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