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GE Labeling Resurrected in California, Petition for Ballot Measure Circulating in Colorado

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California’s 2012 food-labeling ballot measure, rejected by state voters, makes a return from the grave tomorrow with a public hearing in Sacramento. And another state initiative is in the offing in Colorado.

Since the narrow loss for the Golden State’s Proposition 37, which called for labeling foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), almost half the states have seen bills introduced containing similar language.

But moving a GMO-labeling bill through a statehouse has not been easy task. In Colorado, for example, a group calling itself Right to Know Colorado GMO, is avoiding the state’s legislature entirely. It has already filed Initiative 48. With court approval for their ballot title, the group’s next task is to obtain 86,105 valid voter signatures on petitions for submittal to the state by early August.

If the measure qualifies for the ballot, Colorado voters would decide whether food with GMOs sold in the state after July 1, 2016, will be required to have language on the label stating: “Produced With Genetic Engineering.”

Californians for GE Food Labeling — a coalition made up of environmental, foodie and consumer groups — is pitching Senate Bill 1381 as a “simpler, cleaner” version of the ill-fated Prop. 37.

Sponsored by state Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), SB 1381 is one of the few surviving state bills calling for labeling foods with GE ingredients. Evans has more time than most to work the bill as the California General Assembly does not adjourn until Nov. 30. Election-year adjournments for most state legislatures occur much sooner.

Last week, Hawaii House Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Jessica Wooley tried a legislative maneuver to keep a GMO-labeling bill alive. She gutted an unrelated agriculture bill and substituted language for the GMO-labeling requirements.

But her colleagues resisted the move when state officials questioned how the measure could be enforced. “From an enforcement standpoint, unless we have the entire genome of the plant, we won’t be able to test,” said Gary Gill, deputy director of the Hawaii Department of Health.

The bill with the substitute language was then “deferred indefinitely,” effecting killing GM labeling for at least another year in Hawaii. There might be time for another last-minute revival of the GMO bill as the Hawaii Legislature adjourns in early May, but that would happen only if the votes are certain.

State lawmakers in Vermont also go home in early May, and the GE-labeling bill passed by the House there last year still could become law if it can get through the Senate in time.
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