DENVER—The Colorado Supreme Court has given a grass rights movement the go-ahead to petition Coloradans to support a ballot initiative that would require labeling of genetically modified foods (GMOs) on food packaging. Right to Know Colorado—GMO said the state's high court affirmed the title for Initiative #48. Andrew Cole, a spokesman for the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, confirmed the title was approved on March 13.
“We are pleased that the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the GMO labeling ballot title, and we look forward to bringing a GMO labeling initiative before the voters of Colorado this fall," said Larry Cooper, one of the individuals who proposed the initiative, in a statement. "Coloradans have the right to know what is in their food, and to make purchasing decisions for their families based on knowing whether their foods are genetically engineered, and we believe they will have that opportunity after November."
The proposal would require genetically modified food to carry a label, "Produced With Genetic Engineering", beginning on July 1, 2016.
The following foods would be excluded from the labeling requirement:
(1) food or drink for animals;
(2) chewing gum;
(3) alcoholic beverages;
(4) any processed food that would be subject to the labeling requirement solely because one or more processing aids or enzymes were produced or derived with genetic engineering;
(5) food that is not packaged for retail sale and is either a processed food that is prepared and intended for immediate human consumption or food that is provided in a restaurant or other food establishment that primarily sells food that is prepared and intended for immediate human consumption;
(6) food consisting entirely of or from an animal that has not been genetically engineered even if the animal was fed with food that was produced through genetic engineering or any drug that was produced through genetic engineering;
(7) medically prescribed food.
Food distributors, manufacturers and retailers would be liable under Colorado's misbranding statute for failing to clearly and conspicuously label certain genetically modified food, and a violation of the law could subject food manufacturers to criminal prosecution, according to papers filed with the Colorado Supreme Court.
"Labeling of genetically modified food is intended to provide consumers with the opportunity to make an informed choice of the products they consume and to protect the public's health, safety and welfare," the initiative states.
The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment would be responsible for enforcing the law.
Rick Ridder of Denver-based RBI Strategies and Research, a political adviser to Right to Know Colorado, said the grassroots movement plans to begin gathering signatures within a few weeks to place the initiative on the November 2014 ballot. Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage is one of the places where volunteers and paid petitioners plan to gather signatures, he said.
Colorado requires 86,105 valid signatures to place the initiative before voters on Nov. 4, 2014.
Cole said the Colorado Secretary of State's Office is working with proponents of the initiative to get the petition format approved.
Proponents must submit the required signatures by Aug. 4, he said.
"We are not asking to ban GMOs. We are simply asking to label them," Ridder said in a phone interview.
Food Democracy Now, a grassroots movement, has expressed its support for the proposal, and Ridder said he anticipated other organizations in support of the initiative will be announced in the coming weeks.
"We feel very encouraged by the support that has been shown by Coloradoans as we have … talked about the initiative," Ridder said.
In a filing before the Colorado Supreme Court, Rocky Mountain Food Industry Association President Mary Lou Chapman argued the ballot title was misleading. The other petitioner who challenged the ballot title was Mark Arnusch. According to online records, Mark Arnusch of Marc Arnusch Farms, LLC is a farmer in rural Keenesburg, Colo.
Chapman and Arnusch did not return phone calls Tuesday seeking comment on the proposal.
California and Washington voters have rejected similar ballot initiatives after agricultural and grocery interests including the Grocery Manufacturers Association poured tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions to oppose the measures.
Voters in California, Colorado and Washington have been progressive at the polls. About a year-and-a-half ago, Colorado and Washington approved marijuana for recreational use.
California's Proposition 37 was the first ballot initiative that proposed labeling of genetically modified foods. Unlike Prop 37, Colorado's measure would not grant a private right of action to sue a food distributor, retailer or manufacturer for violating the law.