Photo illustration by Joseph Thiebes

GMO measure cost breaks records

Oregon Measure 92 for Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) food labeling is the most expensive political issue in Oregon’s history, exceeding the previous record set by Measure 50 in 2007, according to The Oregonian. The spending reflects the polarized controversy surrounding the measure, with nuanced perspectives on both sides.

Measure 92 has attracted more than $23 million in total campaign contributions, far exceeding Measure 50 in 2007 in which a combined $15.8 million was raised by both sides. The campaign supporting the measure has raised nearly $7 million, while the opposition has raised more than $16 million, according to Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown’s office.

“I am blown away at the money that has been thrown at this measure,” said former Monsanto public affairs employee and local blogger Sara, who asked us not to use her last name because of concerns about her safety. “In some ways, it’s sad and a little bit embarrassing. I feel like Oregon is very much about conservation. Instead we’ve allowed all this money to literally be thrown away because of this measure.”

GMOs and agricultural science can be difficult to understand, and opinions about what entities and institutions are responsible for consumer education are varied.

“We have a big gap in science communication right now,” said Sara. “I think, unfortunately, where the responsibility [for educating people] is resting is on the marketers, and they have no interest in explaining because they can make money by not explaining it and people not understanding.”

The money spent may be a reflection of nationwide controversies surrounding GMOs and the natural food movement.

“I think that sort of sense of naturalness around plants that we saw, that really drove the European response…people are starting to have a sense of that here, especially around food,” said Portland State Associate Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Lisa Weasel. “There has been so much attention to food and health, and food as a connection to identity and a simpler lifestyle.”

Weasel is the author of Food Fray, published in 2009, where she discusses the impact of GMO foods on a global scale. Her Ph.D. from Cambridge University is in Cell and Molecular Biology.

“Science and technology…can be used very effectively to address some of these problems. It has to be put in a bigger context,” said Weasel. “Monsanto is a publicly traded corporation. Its mission is to make money for its shareholders. People are smart enough to know that’s not really about saving the world.”

“I’ve been working on this issue a really long time, since 2000, and I have to say, Americans’ level of literacy on this has hugely increased,” said Weasel. “I mean, people really used to think there’s mouse genes in the lettuce. I think there’s still a long way to go with people really understanding what it is, but I feel like there’s better knowledge than there has been in the past.”

Discussion about the question of labeling GMO foods has been polarized. The Yes on 92 campaign argues that “We have a right to know important information about the food we eat and feed our families.” The No on 92 campaign says that the label “would create a complex and misleading Oregon-only food labeling system that no other state requires.”

“I think people will take it as a warning label,” said PSU student and ASPSU Senator Patrick Vroman. “If someone sees that on their package, most people, if they are looking at that and see ‘GMO’, they’ll think, ‘Oh, I don’t want to eat this.’ I think most people who support labeling understand that even if they aren’t coming out and saying it.”

Consumers can now avoid GMO foods by eating USDA Certified Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified foods. “The use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is prohibited in organic products,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website.

Measure 92 is up for a vote on Nov. 4. Many Oregon voters have already voted by mail, but the controversy continues to build as election day approaches.

Watch the video below for more from Sara, Weasel and Vroman.