GMO labeling measure heading for fall ballot

Similar measure failed after fight in California

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A backer of a ballot measure that would require labels on foods that are genetically modified said his effort is about allowing Coloradans to “make informed decisions about what we are feeding our families.”

But opponents fear that Proposition 105 is unnecessary and would result in confusion and higher food costs.

The Secretary of State's Office announced on Aug. 20 that the initiative backers had collected the necessary number of valid signatures to become one of only four measures to make the November ballot this year.

The food is born from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. GMO-based foods have been sold commercially since the mid-1990s are found in the vast majority of common crop foods, such as soybeans, corn and canola.

The scientific consensus is that foods that contain GMOs are currently not harmful to the public's health or the environment. But that hasn't curbed a GMO-labeling movement that has resulted in similar ballot measures and several legislative efforts around the country.

“I think there's momentum,” said Larry Cooper of Arvada. Cooper is behind the Colorado Right to Know campaign and was responsible for putting the measure on the ballot.

“People in Colorado really enjoy a healthy lifestyle and that's why we work here,” he said. “But, really, what's going on is we are choosing our food blindly.”

Some major chains have already been moving toward Cooper's side on this issue. Whole Foods grocery stores are in the process of labeling all foods that contain GMOs. And foods that are used at Colorado-based Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants contain no GMOs.

But Cooper knows he has a fight on his hands this fall. The packaged food industry has already been pushing back against GMO labeling efforts in other states, including California, where a similar ballot measure failed two years ago.

Opponent's of Cooper's effort insist they have science on their side. They point to independent studies that have not indicated any detrimental health impacts as a result of GMO consumption. And they say that advancements in biotechnology are good because it allows farmers to grow more and feed more people without having a greater environmental or health impact.

Critics also say that, if the measure passes, food prices would go up and labeling foods that contain GMOs would only confuse consumers — who have long been eating the foods without, they say, any problems.

But Cooper dismisses those concerns.

“I really can't understand how it would (raise food prices),” Cooper said. “Obviously, they can choose to raise prices, but the bottom line is all they have to do is put a label on them. It's not a ban.”

Cooper is not a doctor or a scientist. He said he is “a grandpa who got involved” because he is concerned about what his grandchildren are eating.

The way he figures, if there's no problem with GMO-based food, what's the big deal if the ballot measure passes?

“If GMOs are safe, then why not just label them?” he said.