Oregon could be the first state in the U.S. to require labeling for foods containing genetically modified organisms.

Leaders with Oregon Right to Know, a grassroots group currently pushing the issue on the May 20 ballot in Jackson County, announced Thursday morning they'll move forward with a statewide signature-gathering effort.

The effort in Medford is called Measure 15-119.

Statewide, Oregon Right to Know will use both paid signature-gatherers and hundreds of volunteers to collect the 87,213 valid signatures needed by July 3 to place the measure on the November ballot.

“We have a right to know important information about the food we eat and feed our families. We should have the right to choose whether we want to buy and eat genetically engineered food,” said Aurora Paulsen, an attorney at the Center for Food Safety, a major backer of the new Ballot Initiative 44 effort.

The campaign announced a major national endorsement from Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumer Union, which produces Consumer Reports.

“This legislation requires all manufacturers to properly label their foods when they contain genetically engineered ingredients," Hansen said in a statement.

"This will provide Oregonians with the knowledge needed to make informed decisions about the foods they purchase and consume, and to identify any potential health problems that may arise from consumption of such foods."

Sixty-four countries require GMO food labeling, including the 15 nations in the European Union, Japan, Russia and China.

Genetic engineering is different than conventional breeding and raises potential safety issues, Hansen says.

About two dozen initiative backers presented a united front on Thursday at the Northeast Portland headquarters of Oregon Right to Know.

Said Julia DeGraw of Food & Water Watch: “Oregon’s commitment to protecting its beautiful places and promoting locally grown natural food makes it special. We are a national leader in doing the right thing to protect our state and our people, and we should lead the country in requiring labeling of genetically engineered foods. Congress is incapable of getting anything done, so it’s time for Oregon to lead the way."

OSPIRG is also behind the effort. Executive Director David Rosenfeld noted that corporations have spent millions to oppose the effort in Jackson county and in California, and will do so again in Oregon.

"It's not going to be easy," he said. "We're not going to win by outspending. We're going to win by talking one on one, and remembering who's behind (the opposition)."

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