March 27, 2014

Colorado Referendum on Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods Survives Ballot Challenge

The movement to place a referendum on the ballot in Colorado this year that would authorize the labeling of foods with genetically engineered (GE) ingredients has survived a legal challenge by opponents. Initiative 48 has been submitted by Right to Know Colorado GMO, which must now collect 86,105 signatures needed for the measure to appear on the 2014 Colorado ballot.  A challenge to the proposed referendum was filed by an association of retail grocers, alleging that the measure was “misleading.” That petition recited various misleading aspects of the ballot measure, including this allegation: 
The titles do not inform voters that the essence of the Proposed Initiative is that the failure to label genetically modified food is treated as "misbranding" of food. 
In an order issued by the Colorado Supreme Court, the court affirmed an earlier decision of the Title Board, which characterized the initiative in its brief to the court: 
The meat of the initiative is not misbranding. It is the creation of new labeling responsibilities to inform consumers.   
If Right to Know Colorado can submit enough signatures for the ballot, it will appear later this year. In general, state-level developments in the labeling of genetically engineered food or ingredients emerge through direct legislative enactments (see here) or by ballot measures (see here). Many state-level legislative attempts to require GE labeling have failed (such as this effort in Colorado last year), so the direct ballot route becomes an alternative. That, however, is no guarantee of electoral success (a mandatory GE food labeling referendum, Proposition 37, appeared on the California 2012 ballot, and was defeated). In fact, defeat of that referendum has swung the pendulum back to a direct legislative effort in California this year (supporters note that “SB 1381 is a simpler, clearer version of Prop. 37).” 

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