Food and biotechnology industries in the US breathed a collective sigh of relief this week as the voters of the US state of Oregon voiced a resounding 'no' to Measure 27, an initiative that would have required labels on food containing genetically engineered material.
The high profile vote brought millions of dollars on to the campaign trail, with opponents of the vote spending $5 million on persuading the voters to reject the measure.
Groups in the 'Yes' camp, with a fraction of the campaign budget, had a difficult battle to fight. According to reports in the US press, polls in early October showed that the measure would pass by a wide margin, but several weeks on and millions of dollars later, the vote was completely turned around, with over 70 per cent of voters - more than 700,000 people - in the 'No' camp.
"Oregonians have resoundingly rejected the efforts of the proponents of Measure 27 to scare people about the foods they eat," said Pat McCormick, spokesman for the Coalition Against the Costly Labeling Law. "I think it affirms their confidence in (Food and Drug Administration) regulation of foods in this country."
The requirements of Measure 27 would have been even stricter than those under consideration in Europe. It would mandate labelling on products that contain as little as 0.1 per cent of genetically-engineered ingredients, compared with the 1 per cent threshold proposed in the European legislation.
Genetic modification, in which DNA is transferred from one organism to another, can boost farm yields, protect against diseases and provide other benefits. It is used in more than 70 per cent of processed food in the United States as well as animal feeds.
Proponents argue that GM foods can reduce the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers, while opponents question the safety of these "frankenfoods". The issue of genetically modified foods found a voice in Europe much earlier than in the US, with consumers clearly stating their fears over this new technology. A tangible result of these fears will be tougher legislation to be introduced into European law very shortly.
In a country celebrated for the idolatry of its consumers, there is a certain irony that the outcome of the Measure 27 vote appears to reflect the power of the dollar, and not the consumer.