GE Labeling Proponents Make History in Oregon
Oregon GE Food Labeling Proponents Make History

History was made on July 5 when Oregon GE activists submitted 101,256
signatures to the Secretary of State's office to put a GE food labeling
initiative on the ballot for voters. They are the first to achieve this
feat. Donna Harris and a core group of organizers and petitioners came from
cities throughout Oregon. Mel Bankoff, owner of Emerald Valley Kitchen, was
not only the major financial contributor but also collected signatures with
his wife many times through out the campaign.

Children Led Procession
"It was a beautiful day," remarked Donna Harris, one of the chief
proponents, who continued, "Everything flowed beautifully. The speakers were
great, and it was wonderful to have the children there. The highlight of the
event was actually walking with the children to turn in the signatures. The
procession was led by Michelle Bankoff who, I believe, is three years old.
She pushed a little red wheelbarrow with about a thousand signatures in it,
followed by my niece Katie Pyland who pulled about 50,000 signatures in one
wagon, and then Marlie Bankoff who pulled the wagon with the other 50,000
signatures in it. And my other nephew, Jimmie helped push the wagon. The
kids led us into the Secretary of State's office to the cheers of the crowd.
It was a beautiful moment!"

Strong media presence
Media representatives came from two television stations ‹ Channel 2 and
Channel 8, OPB Radio, which did an extensive interview, and newspapers,
which included The Oregonian, Statesman Journal, Portland Tribune, and
Associated Press news service. The Eugene Register Guard also did a story.

Opposition comes out early
Forces opposed to the labeling initiative also showed up at the signature
"turn-in" to announce their campaign to defeat it. Considering that the
initiative is not yet certified for the ballot, their unusual move indicates
the high stakes ahead. Grocery Manufacturers of America, the biggest food
industry lobbying organization opposing the initiative, has a reputation for
threatening to stop doing business in states which contemplate mandatory
labeling of GE food. Oregon voters could be the first to put that threat to
the test after many state legislators have caved into it.

Will food trade stop for Oregon?
Opponents claim that mandatory labeling will disrupt Oregon food trade. Kate
Lord, another proponent of the labeling initiative countered that claim in a
June 25 Statesman Journal article. She pointed out that "Oregon¹s
independent streak has faced down such threats before. For example, Coca
Cola never made good on a threat not to sell its products in the state when
the Oregon Bottle Bill became law in 1971, requiring bottles be returnable
and have a minimum refund value". In a July 6 Statesman Journal article,
initiative supporter Dawn Balzano added that, "Kraft has a division in
Europe that labels genetically engineered foods, the same products that are
made for consumers in North America".

What¹s next?
The Oregon Secretary of State has until August 4 to verify if at least
66,786 of the signatures are valid. If they are, then voter education starts
for the November 2002 election and the fun begins!

Jeff Peckman

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