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Measure to Label Genetically Modified Foods Heading to Ballot in Washington

Measure to Label Genetically Modified Foods Heading to Ballot in Washington

Washington would be first US state to require GMO products to be labeled

Wikimedia Commons/jlantzy

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Come November, there will be a measure on ballots in Washington State that will require every product sold — whether packaged items of fruits and vegetables — that is in some way genetically modified to include a label letting the consumer know.

A petition with 350,000 signatures (100,000 more than needed) was turned into the state government last week, guaranteeing that the measure will be on the ballot. If it passes, Washington will be the first state with a full-disclosure law when it comes to genetically modified (GMO) food.

Sixty-two countries currently ban, restrict, or require labeling of GMO products, Trudy Bialic, a representative for PCC Natural Markets, a Seattle-based food cooperative pushing for the initiative's passage, told The Huffington Post. There’s a nationwide effort underway to make the labeling requirement a national law, with 1.3 million signatures so far gathered to be sent to the FDA, who has yet to respond.

The battle to label GMO foods is far more uphill than it may appear, though: food giants like Monsanto, Pepsi, and Coca-Cola have spent millions of dollars to shoot down ballot initiatives in the past (including one that failed in California last year), because a ban will ultimately cost the companies money even though it would benefit the public.

"There's no way we'll be able to outspend them," Bialic said. "This is a long battle. Sooner or later we're going to win, and we're hoping it's going to be in Washington."


Vermont takes on genetically modified foods with new labeling law

Vermont governor Peter Shumlin is expected to sign the United States' first unrestricted GMO labeling law today. The new law (pdf), scheduled to take effect in July 2016, will be the first in the nation to require food makers to label products made from genetically modified ingredients, such as corn, soybean or sugar beets.

GMO-labeling advocates have been rejoicing at the news, but trade groups and some scientists have been more skeptical. Others, including Vermont's Attorney General Bill Sorrell, are bracing for industry-led lawsuits they say are very likely to follow.

Connecticut and Maine have also passed GMO-labeling laws, but both states included trigger clauses in the language. Connecticut, for example, doesn't take effect until four other states, with a total of at least 20 million residents, enact similar laws. Maine's law won't take effect until five nearby states follow suit.

High-profile ballot measures to enact labeling laws failed in California in 2012 and Washington state in 2013. But activity is percolating around the country. The Center for Food Safety says there are currently 63 active GMO labeling bills in 23 states, and 32 bills have been introduced since the beginning of this year.

But for now, Vermont is going solo.


California Puts Initiative To Label Genetically Modified Foods On November Ballot

A California initiative requiring the labeling of genetically modified food will be on the November 6 ballot, state officials announced last week. The initiative requires companies to label food that has been made from genetically modified plants or animals and prohibits them from advertising of such food as &ldquonatural.&rdquo California Right to Know, the organization fueling the initiative, submitted 971,126 signatures to get the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act on the ballot. According to the organization, the initiative will increase consumer awareness &ldquobecause consumers have the right to know what&rsquos in our food.&rdquo

This year, 20 other states have unsuccessfully tried to pass legislation about labeling for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), so the California initiative would be the first of its kind in the United States. Other countries, including Japan, Australia, China and those in the European Union, already mandate that genetically modified food has to be labeled.

Despite difficulty in passing legislation, polls show that people overwhelmingly support GMO labeling. A 2012 study by the Mellman Group found that 91 percent of voters nationwide want the FDA to require that &ldquofoods which have been genetically engineered or containing genetically engineered ingredients be labeled to indicate that.&rdquo A similar Zogby report found that &ldquoUS adults are divided on whether genetically modified foods are safe, but solid majorities are both less likely to buy such foods, and want them clearly labeled.&rdquo

And if California&rsquos labeling initiative passes, as Mother Jones&rsquo Tom Philpott explains, the labeling initiative would reverberate nationally throughout the food industry. Product differentiation is costly, and food processors outside of California are likely to apply whatever regulations the state imposes. &ldquoIf massive food processors like Kraft and Unilever are forced to label essentially all of their products just for the California market, it likely won&rsquot be long before they&rsquore pushing for national labeling &mdash or simply just labeling everything for the national market.&rdquo

But opposition to the initiatives has also been powerful. As the New York Times pointed out, the battle over GMO labeling puts consumer groups and organic farmers, who want mandatory labeling, up against conventional farmers, food brands like Kraft, and agricultural biotechnology companies like Monsanto. It has also added &ldquofuel to a long-simmering debate over the merits of genetically engineered crops, which many scientists and farmers believe could be useful in meeting the world&rsquos rapidly expanding food needs.&rdquo

Groups that oppose labeling genetically modified food, who suggest these crops could help meet the world&rsquos growing food demands, say GMOs do not pose a health risk and could be beneficial:

The F.D.A. has said that labeling is generally not necessary because the genetic modification does not materially change the food.

Farmers, food and biotech companies and scientists say that labels might lead consumers to reject genetically modified food &mdash and the technology that created it &mdash without understanding its environmental and economic benefits. A national science advisory organization termed those benefits &lsquosubstantial,&rsquo noting that existing biotech crops have for years let farmers spray fewer or less harmful chemicals, though the emergence of resistant weeds and insects threatens to blunt that effect. [&hellip]

Rather than label food with what consumers might regard as a skull and crossbones, the companies say food producers may ultimately switch to ingredients that are not genetically modified, as they did in Europe.

Regardless, those in favor of the labeling mandate argue that food manufacturers have an obligation to label food that has been genetically modified. For their part, in 2011 the Organic Farming Research Foundation released a report that clearly demonstrated the various economic benefits of the organic food industry, including huge potential economic benefits, offering an alternative to the genetically modified food industry.


Results of Controversial 2012 Election Ballot Measures

Gay Marriage : Ballot initiatives involving the legalization of gay marriage came before voters in Maine and Maryland, where they were approved (52.6% – 47.3% and 51.9% – 48.1% respectively), marking the first time that this issue passed via statewide referendum. Similar legislation in the state of Washington is currently leading 51.8% – 48.2%, but as of Nov. 7 has not officially passed. Minnesota voters struck down a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between one man and one woman (52.3% – 47.7%), although state legislation still makes same-sex marriage illegal.

Marijuana : Massachusetts voters legalized medical marijuana use (63% – 37%), while Arkansas voted down similar legislation (51%-49%). Montana voters upheld an existing law that imposes additional restrictions on medical marijuana patients and caregivers (56.5% – 43.5%). Medical marijuana use is now legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Recreational use of marijuana was legalized in Colorado (54.8% – 45.2%) and Washington (55.4% – 44.6%) for people over the age of 21, while similar legislation did not pass in Oregon (54.8% – 45.2%). Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Death Penalty : California voters decided to retain the death penalty (52.8% – 47.2%). The state allows the death penalty for first degree murder (with 20 special circumstances) and treason.

GMO Food : California voters also rejected a measure to label genetically modified foods (53.1% – 46.9%)


Washington State Ballot Initiative Would Require Companies to Label Genetically Modified Food

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) -- Any food sold in Washington state and made with genetically engineered crops would have to be labeled under a ballot initiative submitted Thursday.

The move came two months after California voters rejected a similar measure that pitted food safety advocates against agricultural and biotechnology giants in a roughly $55 million advertising battle.

Opponents of the food labeling argue it will raise food prices and hurt farmers. Supporters contend that consumers should have a choice about eating genetically engineered products , even if the federal government and major science groups say such foods are safe to eat.

Proponents promised to take their fight to the Northwest after the California ballot measure failed.

On Thursday, initiative sponsors delivered 350,000 petition signatures to state officials inside an ambulance with a sign on the side reading "Label GMO Food."

To qualify for the ballot, it requires at least 241,153 signatures of registered state voters, though the secretary of state's office suggests collecting at least 320,000 as a buffer for duplicate or invalid signatures.

Initiative 522 would require food and seeds produced entirely or partly through genetic engineering and sold in Washington to be labeled as such, beginning July 1, 2015. Raw foods that are not packaged separately would have to be labeled on retail shelves.

Supporters say consumers benefit from having more information.

"Yes, you can steer clear of certain items, but unless you know that they're there, how do you know to steer clear of them?" asked Chris McManus, the initiative sponsor and owner of a small advertising firm. "Putting a label on the front of that just informs the consumer a little bit more about what they're buying."

The nation's food labeling system already is built around giving consumers information about health and safety, countered Heather Hansen, executive director of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests.

"We think this is really intended to be a scare tactic, to ultimately scare people away from technology," she said. "And it's not providing any meaningful information."

Once the proposal goes to the state Legislature, lawmakers have the option to vote on it, take no action and send it to the November ballot, or recommend an alternative measure that will appear on the ballot with it.

About 50 countries require genetically modified foods to be labeled, but the U.S. isn't one of them. Only Alaska has enacted legislation requiring the labeling of genetically engineered fish and shellfish products.

A bill in the Washington Legislature to require food labeling failed to pass last year, despite support from a coalition of wheat farmers who said they feared their export markets would be hurt if genetically modified wheat gains federal approval.

Biotech giant Monsanto Co. has announced plans to begin testing genetically modified wheat, though the product is likely a decade or more from being offered commercially.


According to a recent study by independent food-marketing expert Kai Robertson, changes to a food manufacturer’s product labels have not been found to affect the prices paid by shoppers. This is largely because food processors regularly, and even weekly, make changes to the labels of their products for marketing or regulatory reasons.

Over 50 bills to require the labeling of GE foods were introduced in 26 states in 2013. Connecticut and Maine passed legislation this year with more to be expected next year.


Ballot Measure Mandating Labels for Genetically Modified Food Defeated in California

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While most voters were following the presidential and U.S. Senate races on November 6, those interested in food safety were keeping a close eye on a ballot measure in California. Proposition 37, an initiative that would have mandated the labeling of most foods containing genetically modified ingredients, was soundly defeated, with 53% of initial votes rejecting the measure.

Support among voters had reached as high as 60% in polls, but a blizzard of negative advertising, mostly from food and biotech companies such as Monsanto, DuPont, Kraft, and PepsiCo, appeared to have swayed Californians at the polls. Had it passed, Proposition 37 might have been the catalyst for a larger national movement to label genetically modified foods.

One opponent to the measure was the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In a statement released October 20, the group declared that &ldquocrop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.&rdquo To support its assertion, AAAS pointed to a recent research report from the European Union, which has spent more than £300 million studying the biosafety of genetically modified foods.

&ldquoThe main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies,&rdquo according to the report.

But the scientific community was not completely united on the issue. A group of 21 well-known scientists, led by Patricia Hunt, PhD, of the Center for Reproductive Biology at Washington State University in Pullman, released a statement on November 1 that challenged the AAAS.

&ldquoOur experience with other well-studied consumer products (tobacco, asbestos, bisphenol A, phthalates) demonstrates that a large number of tests provide no guarantee of safety,&rdquo they wrote. &ldquoTypically, evidence of harm has only emerged when testing has been conducted independently of those who benefit from the product or practice.&rdquo

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Ballots news

The highly contentious measure in the small city of SeaTac was one of the most narrow races on the November ballot. Although, according to initial counts, the proposition was ahead by a fair margin, the margin was reduced to as little as 19 votes in later vote count updates. Finally, on November 26, the results were certified and the measure was declared approved by a margin of only 77 votes, with 3,040 voting for the measure and 2,963 voting against it. Prop 1 had fallen into the national spotlight because it was the first municipal ballot measure that sought to raise the minimum wage Prop 1 asked voters to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Many living-wage advocates think this measure might be the beginning of local movements, across the state and across the nation, to increase legally mandated wages of low-rank employees. Ώ]

Proposition 1 had produced a very disproportionately well funded battle in the small city of SeaTac. In the city of only 12,100 registered votes, support and opposition campaigns had received contributions totaling $1,585,763. This amounts to $131.05 per registered voter and, with the projected voter-turnout of 55%, this figure rises to about $238 per vote. Evidence of the strong support and opposition to this measure was also given by the litigation that already surrounds it. The measure drew an attack early on, when opponents, including Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association, filed a lawsuit questioning the validity of the petition signatures used to qualify the measure for the ballot. After the election, even before results were certified, the same opponents have filed another lawsuit claiming the measure is unenforceable and lies outside the power of the city and the city's voters. ΐ] Α]

Bigger campaign spending pays off, Albuquerque voters say no to late term abortion ban:

November 20, 2013

Updated: November 21, 2013

Total campaign cash
as of November 15, 2013
Support: $183,336.71
Opposition: $712,459.18

Yesterday featured a historic election on the abortion issue. Albuquerque voters rejected an initiative that would have banned most abortion procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy. If this measure had been approved by voters, it would have made Albuquerque the first city to restrict abortions after 20 weeks and would shut down the Southwestern Women's Options clinic, which is one of the few clinics in the nation that offers late term abortions during or after the sixth month of pregnancy. While many states have passed similar legislation, this is the first attempt to restrict abortions after 20 weeks on the municipal level, making yesterday's election unique. Although this was a local measure, it would have had state and even nation wide effects, as women from many areas often travel to the Southwestern Women's Options clinic in Albuquerque to have a late term abortion procedure. Β]

Although polling done by the Albuquerque Journal in early September showed 54% of voters were likely to support the initiative, the measure lost at the polls by just a little more than that majority, with 55.3% of voters saying "no" according to the current unofficial vote count. Some have tried to explain this shift in apparent voter position on the issue through the heavily unequal campaign spending seen from each side of the campaign. As of November 20, campaign finance reports showed the campaign in opposition to the abortion ban with a war chest of a little over $700,000, while the initiative supporters had collected $183,336. Moreover, donors on both sides of the issue were not restricted to local groups. Main contributors to the "No" campaign include Planned Parenthood organizations from several states, which donated a total of $344,655, and the New Mexico ACLU, which donated $245,000. The "Yes" campaign has seen its largest donations from the Susan B. Anthony List, a national pro-life organization, and from residents of Albuquerque. Γ]

November 7, 2013

Updated November 12, 2013 Δ]

Ballotpedia provided comprehensive coverage of all 70 local measures decided in California in the November 5, 2013 election. Ballotpedia also covered local measures in Arizona and notable measures in Colorado, Ohio, Florida and Washington. All together Ballotpedia covered 139 measures on the ballot. As of November 7, 82 were approved, 49 were defeated and 7 are too close to call before certification.

The notable measure that was overwhelmingly defeated on the ballot in Ohio by Cincinnati voters is Issue 4, which was an initiative put on the ballot through a signature petition drive backed by a committee called Cincinnati for Pension Reform. Issue 4 sought a solution to the $862 million in unfunded pension debt featured by the city's public pension fund. It proposed converting the pension system for new city employees from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan, implementing contribution caps for the city, making cost of living adjustments compatible with actual increases in the consumer price index, with a cap at 3% annually, and prohibiting city employees from earning income from a city or government job while also simultaneously receiving retirement benefit payments. Although the committee behind the measure had a war chest of $469,205, Issue 4 was defeated by a 78.33% majority.

47 measures out of 70 total in California were approved. 3 measures are too close to call until the results are certified. The remaining 20 measures were defeated.

45 of the 70 measures on the November 5 ballot pertained to local tax and bond measures $22 billion of borrowing in 87 school districts. Stay tuned after the election to see how this year's approval rate for tax and bond measures compares to years past.

The notable measures in California were found in San Francisco, where a public retiree health care fund reform measure was approved with a 68.7% majority. Two measures concerning a waterfront development project known as the "8 Washington Street development were decisively defeated.

Four measures proposing a moratorium or permanent ban on fracking in cities across Colorado found their way onto the November 5 ballot in Colorado. One other, a City of Loveland Two Year Fracking Suspension Initiative, is awaiting a court case decision and may or may not be put on a later special election ballot. Of the four on the ballot, 3 were approved and 1 is currently too close to call.

There were also sales tax increases for recreational marijuana on the ballot in the cities of Denver and Boulder and a marijuana occupation tax measure in the town of Eagle, which were on the ballot in concert with the proposed state-wide measure seeking a excise and sales tax on all recreational marijuana, Proposition AA. All three local measures and the state measure were approved.

In eleven counties, voters decided on a resolution requiring their respective county commissions "to Pursue the Creation of a 51st State" in concert with the other counties seeking to secede. According to the current, unofficial vote count, 6 counties rejected the "51st state initiative," while five approved it. The counties in which this question was before voters on November 5 were:

d Weld
d Logan
d Sedgwick
a Phillips
a Washington
a Yuma
d Elbert
d Lincoln
a Kit Carson
a Cheyenne
d Moffat

There were 43 measures on the ballot in Arizona. 18 were approved, 22 were defeated and 3 are too close to call until results are certified.

The 2013 local measure to watch in Arizona was the initiative in Tucson seeking to change the pension system for new public employees from a defined benefit plan to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan. This measure, however, was removed from the ballot due to a lawsuit based on circulator qualifications and petitioner regulation technicalities.

Nevertheless, Tucson voters still had decisions to make. Two other measures, a base expenditure limitation increase and a general 10 year city plan were approved by electors on November 5.

The other measures on the ballot in Arizona mainly consisted of city and school district bond issues and capital overrides.

One pension measure was approved by voters in the city of Hialeah. This measure eliminated the relatively generous pension plan offered to retired city council members. According to the 2012 U.S. Census estimate, Hialeah is the 88th largest city in the nation and the 6th largest city in Florida with a population of 231,941. Ε] This was the only notable measure covered by Ballotpedia in Florida.

For the November 5, 2013 election, three very notable and high-profile measures were covered by Ballotpedia in Washington, including two Spokane measures, which sought to establish a "Community Bill of Rights" and a "Voter Bill of Rights" respectively. Both of these measures, however, were booted from the ballot in court on the grounds that the proposed laws fell outside the jurisdiction of city authority and the authority of the peoples' initiative.

But the groundbreaking measure in the small city of SeaTac was still on the ballot and, while garnering enough votes early in the vote count to prompt proponents to announce victory, is, after updated vote counts, clinging to the status of approved by only 43 votes. There are many more votes to count, making a Prop 1 victory very uncertain. Stay tuned to this page for immediate election results updates. Prop 1 had fallen into the national spotlight because it was the first municipal ballot measure that sought to raise the minimum wage Prop 1 asked voters to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Many living-wage advocates think this measure might be the beginning of local movements, across the state and across the nation, to increase legally mandated wages of low-rank employees.

Proposition 1 had produced a very disproportionately well funded battle in the small city of SeaTac. In the city of only 12,100 registered votes, support and opposition campaigns had received contributions totaling $1,585,763. This amounts to $131.05 per registered voter and, with the projected voter-turnout of 55%, this figure rises to about $238 per vote.

October 8, 2013

The list of this year’s most notable measures was compiled by Ballotpedia, which has provided comprehensive coverage of statewide ballot measures since 2008.

Leslie Graves, Ballotpedia’s executive editor, noted a unique feature of the 2013 ballot: With only 31 statewide measures on the ballot in 6 states, 2013 will have 28 percent fewer measures than the average number of measures on the ballot in an odd-numbered year. Historically, elections in even-numbered years see an average of 175 measures, while those in odd-numbered years see approximately 45. The statewide ballot measures in 2013 are light, even in comparison to ballots from other odd-numbered years.

The Five Most Notable Measures are:

  • Washington State’s I-522: I-522, if approved, will require that foods produced entirely or partly with genetic engineering be labeled as such when offered for retail sale in the state, beginning in July 2015. A similar measure, California’s Proposition 37, lost narrowly on that state’s November 6, 2012 ballot after a long list of food companies spent more than $45 million in the waning weeks of the campaign to defeat it.
  • Colorado’s Amendment 66: Amendment 66 proposes a state income tax increase of approximately $950 million, with the proceeds going to the state’s public education system. A similar measure, Colorado’s Proposition 103, was defeated in November 2011. Supporters of Amendment 66 paid over $11 per signature to qualify it for the ballot, beating the record set in 2012 when supporters of California’s 2012 Proposition 30 paid $10.86 per signature to qualify their measure, which was also a tax hike for education.
  • New Jersey Public Question 2: New Jersey’s Public Question 2 proposes an increase in the minimum wage by a dollar, from $7.25 to $8.25, and automatic yearly increases based on the Consumer Price Index. Six statewide minimum wage increases were on the 2006 ballot all of them were approved by wide margins.
  • Texas Proposition 6: Texas typically votes on a significant number of proposed constitutional amendments in off-years. 2013 is no exception, with nine proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution on the ballot. In previous years, the practice of holding off-year elections has led to voter turnout in the single digits. This doesn’t mean that the off-year amendments are unimportant. Proposition 6 in 2013 proposes to take $2 billion out of the state’s Rainy Day Fund and spend it on water projects. This has led to fierce opposition from fiscally conservative groups in the state.
  • Cincinnati Pension Reform Charter Initiative: This initiative aims to change Cincinnati’s underfunded pension system from a defined benefit to a defined contribution plan. It is opposed by the city council and city unions. Two cities in California, San Diego and San Jose, voted on and overwhelmingly approved city-wide measures to reform their faltering pension plans in June 2012. Initiatives similar to the Cincinnati plan are under discussion in other cities. Election-watchers looking for insight into the mood of the electorate on pensions should keep an eye on how Cincinnati's citizens vote on this one.

August 14, 2013

Jefferson City, Missouri: Rex Sinquefield, a retired financier and frequent contributor to campaigns and candidates in Missouri, has filed a lawsuit to block a campaign finance reform measure from appearing on the 2014 ballot. If approved by voters, this measure - which is sponsored by the group, The Missouri Roundtable for Life - would amend the Missouri Constitution and cap campaign contributions to those running for statewide office or a legislative seat at $2,600. Currently, there are no caps or restrictions on contributions to campaigns and candidates in the state. The measure is currently collecting signatures, and if supporters gather at least 211,000 valid signatures, the measure will be placed on the ballot. Ζ] Η]

Sinquefield and lobbyist Travis Brown are both listed as plaintiffs. They claim "the initiative doesn’t adequately measure the financial impact of the amendment, unfairly restricts free speech and freedom of association and contains unfair language that could manipulate voters." Brown told the Missouri Times, "This ultimately is about freedom of expression and speech. An individual should have the right to express themselves by support or opposition to a candidate or committee." Sec. of State Jason Kander responded, saying he believed the language of the measure would be upheld in court. Courts have historically struck down attempts to limit campaign contributions, saying that the ability to donate money to campaigns and candidates is a form of free expression, which is protected by the first amendment. Ζ]

July 15, 2013

CHEYENNE, Wyoming: Supporters of a referendum on Senate File 104 submitted piles of signed petitions to the Wyoming secretary of state's office on May 28, the deadline by which 37,606 signatures were needed to place the legislation before voters. Despite high hopes from supporters, Wyoming election director Peggy Nighswonger announced on May 31 that only 21,991 signatures had been collected, thereby disqualifying the measure. ⎖]

The story doesn't end there, however, as the effort's leading sponsor, Jennifer Young, has filed a lawsuit claiming that the secretary of state violated the rights of referendum supporters by taking two weeks to provide them with petition forms. According to the lawsuit, those two weeks account for about sixteen percent of the ninety-day period citizens are given for circulating referendum petitions. The lawsuit names Secretary of State Max Maxfield as the only defendant. Young is asking the court to award her and other supporters of the referendum another ninety days to circulate petitions for the 2014 ballot. ⎗]

May 31, 2013

CHEYENNE, Wyoming: Tuesday, May 28, was the deadline to submit signed petitions for anyone looking to hold a public referendum on legislation passed by the Wyoming legislature this session. In contrast to the last seven years, this time signatures were actually turned in to the secretary of state's office. ⎘]

The petitions were filed by the opponents of Senate File 104, also known as the "Hill bill." The bill stripped a number of duties from the elected state superintendent of public instruction and transferred them to the newly created education department director, a position to be filled by an appointment by the governor. The petition drive was spearheaded by the Wyoming Constitution Party, who say that the bill is in opposition to the will of the public because it transfers power from an elected position to an appointed one. Members of the legislature who voted in favor of the bill say that current superintendent Cindy Hill was mismanaging the state education department and preventing legislative work aimed at overhauling the state's public school system. ⎘]

The secretary of state has sixty days from the filing deadline to count and verify the submitted signatures. If the necessary 37,606 are certified, the Wyoming Education Department Director Referendum will head to the 2014 general election ballot. ⎘]


In New Jersey vote, hope for supporters of higher state minimum wages

If you want to see into the political future, look no further than New Jersey — and not just because of the brash conservative leading the state and, potentially someday, his party.

Voters there overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution Tuesday to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 and authorize regular increases in line with inflation, making it the fifth state to constitutionally enshrine such wage standards and the 11th state to approve automatic increases.

Although voters overwhelmingly reelected Republican Gov. Chris Christie , the vote on the constitutional amendment was a repudiation of one of his policy stances. This year, Christie vetoed a bill to raise the minimum wage, along with automatic adjustments tied to inflation. He proposed, instead, to raise the minimum wage by $1 over three years and increase the earned-income tax credit. The Democratic-led state legislature turned him down and voted to place the issue on the ballot. And, on Tuesday, voters passed the measure 61 percent to 39 percent.

Proponents of minimum-wage increases see a referendum as a winning strategy. To Democrats and progressives, it’s an issue on which they can differentiate themselves, and it’s also one that enjoys broad support.

“This is an issue that cuts across the typical partisan boundaries,” says Jack Temple, a policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, which supported the New Jersey measure. The group expects similar measures next November on ballots in South Dakota, Alaska, Arkansas and Massachusetts. And it expects Maryland, Minnesota, Hawaii and Illinois to take up the issue in legislative sessions early next year.

Such fights can have high stakes, as was the case in one small Washington state city — SeaTac — which approved one of the nation’s highest minimum wages Tuesday. About $2 million was spent by both sides of the issue in a Seattle suburb of just 12,108 registered voters. Many of them took to the polls to approve a $15 minimum wage for hospitality and transportation workers.

Other ballot questions posed to voters across the country Tuesday could have significant implications for efforts to legalize marijuana, enact gun controls and label genetically modified foods.

In Washington state, a $30 million food fight came to an end when a measure to require labeling of genetically modified foods was defeated 55 percent to 45 percent.

The battle was fueled mostly by a few giant corporate interests, with virtually all of the money raised in opposition to the measure — known as Initiative 522 — coming from out of state.

The initiative would have required labels on GM food and seeds sold within the state, with exceptions for a few categories, including alcoholic beverages and certified organic foods.

Tuesday was also significant for proponents of legalizing marijuana. Three Michigan towns removed penalties for possessing small amounts of the drug Portland, Maine, overwhelmingly approved its legalization and Coloradans, who did the same last year, agreed to tax it.

Voters in Colorado handily approved a pair of taxes that amount to a 25 percent levy on marijuana. The potential tax revenue is a key part of the argument advocates make in favor of legalization. And with up to $40 million a year from one of the two taxes dedicated to school construction, Colorado legalization advocates can point to benefits to the economy and public welfare.

Meanwhile, Coloradans rejected another tax proposal by the same margin. That measure would have replaced the state’s flat income tax with a two-tiered system, raising nearly $1 billion in its first full year of implementation, according to estimates, much of which would have been dedicated to school funding.

In the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, voters approved a gun-safety measure that both sides of the gun-control fight see as potentially important to the national debate.

Residents of Sunnyvale, a mid-size city at the southern end of San Francisco Bay, passed a set of four gun-safety rules: Gun owners must report the loss or theft of a firearm within 48 hours of when they should reasonably know it is missing guns must be locked when not in use large-capacity ammunition magazines are prohibited, with some exceptions and vendors will have to keep sales logs for two years. The National Rifle Association sees the measure as a great opportunity to bring a case challenging limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines.

In New York, voters approved the establishment of up to seven gambling resorts in the state.

Five Colorado counties voted to secede from the state, and six rejected the idea. The effort was led by the Weld County commissioners, who said the Democrat-led state government was neglecting rural interests. But Weld was one of the six counties whose voters rejected the secession.

Voters in Houston rejected a plan to convert the Astrodome, the world’s first multipurpose domed stadium, to a convention and events center. The stadium is expected to be torn down.


GMO Labeling Proposition Narrowly Loses in Oregon

At the end of Election Day, the results were too close to call, but now things seem official. Oregon voters narrowly rejected a bill requiring companies to label genetically modified foods.

The final tally was about 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent𠅊 small margin, but enough to defeat the proposition. According to Oregon Live, spending by both sides set records for an Oregon ballot measure campaign. Those in favor raised more than $8 million, the most ever in the state for a pro side. Opponents, on the other hand, spent a hefty $20 million to strike down what was officially known as Measure 92.

Colorado, a state with a similar proposition in this year’s election, had a far more lopsided response: 69 percent of voters were against that state’s Proposition 105.

Colorado and Oregon were the only two states with GMO labeling bills on the ballot this election season, but both California and Washington have rejected similar proposals in the previous two years. And this wasn’t Oregon’s first tango with genetic modification: The state voted against labeling in 2002, when only 30 percent of the voters supported the cause.

The change in voter sentiment over the past decade and the increasing number of states taking up the issue show that GMO labeling is a growing concern for many Americans. Last spring, Vermont passed a law requiring GMO labeling to take effect in 2016, though that law is currently being challenged in court.

In the end, Oregon’s close vote will probably do more to galvanize both sides of the debate rather than settle it.


Colorado, Oregon Reject GMO Labeling

Supporters of efforts to label GMOs in foods turn out at a rally in Denverin 2013. A ballot measure that would such labels failed to pass by a wide margin Tuesday. Luke Runyon/KUNC/Harvest Public Media hide caption

Supporters of efforts to label GMOs in foods turn out at a rally in Denverin 2013. A ballot measure that would such labels failed to pass by a wide margin Tuesday.

Luke Runyon/KUNC/Harvest Public Media

An effort to label genetically modified foods in Colorado failed to garner enough support Tuesday. It's the latest of several state-based GMO labeling ballot measures to fail. UPDATE: A similar measure in Oregon was also defeated by a narrow margin.

Voters in Colorado resoundingly rejected the labeling of foods that contain the derivatives of genetically modified - or GMO – crops, with 66 percent voting against, versus 34 percent in favor.

In Oregon the outcome was closer, with fewer than 51 percent voting against the measure. Political ad spending in Oregon was more competitive than in Colorado, where labeling opponents outspent proponents by millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, a proposal in Maui County, Hawaii, skipped the labeling debate altogether. Voters there narrowly approved a moratorium on GMO crop cultivation. The state has been a battleground between biotech firms and food activists. Some Hawaiian farmers grow a variety of papaya genetically engineered to resist a plant virus.

Polling prior to the GMO labeling vote in Colorado was scarce. Polls found Colorado's measure faced an uphill battle in the final weeks before the election. A Suffolk University poll found only 29 percent of registered voters favored the measure, while 49 percent were likely to vote against it. A Denver Post poll was even more damning. According to that poll, 59 percent were opposed to GMO labeling in Colorado, 34 percent in favor.

Colorado's Proposition 105 would've required food companies to label packaged foods with the text "produced with genetic engineering." Oregon's Measure 92 says food labels would need to include the words "genetically engineered." Many processed foods contain soybean oil, corn syrup, refined sugar and cottonseed oil. Those oils and syrups are often derived from GMO crops that farmers have adopted over the last 18 years. Few whole foods, like the ones you see in the produce aisle, are genetically engineered, though some GE varieties of sweet corn, squash and papaya are approved for sale in the U.S.

The failed measures in Colorado and Oregon follow a nationwide trend. Similar ballot questions in California and Washington state were rejected in 2012 and 2013, respectively. This summer, Vermont's governor signed the nation's first GMO labeling requirement into law. It's supposed to take effect in 2016, but a coalition of biotech firms and farmer groups have filed suit to prevent that from happening.

Groups opposed to GMO labeling poured big money into efforts to quash the ballot measures, spending more than $15 million in Colorado alone. In Oregon, opponents of labeling raised more than $18 million, making the ballot measure the most expensive issue campaign in the state's history. Most of that money came from large seed corporations like Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer, and from processed food companies like Pepsi, Land O' Lakes and Smucker's. All of that outside money opened labeling opponents up to criticism of being tied to corporate interests.

"The reality is, campaigns cost money, and I'm really proud to say that groups like Smucker's, like Pepsi, stood shoulder to shoulder with the farmers that are growing their ingredients," says Chad Vorthmann, executive vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, which also contributed to the "No on 105" campaign.

Supporters of GMO labeling efforts took issue with opponents' claims that the measure would result in the cost of food going up and increase the burden on farmers. Despite Tuesday's loss at the ballot box, Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the national Center for Food Safety, which supports labeling efforts, saw a silver lining in the outcome.

"Despite an aggressive and deceptive anti-consumer campaign, hundreds of thousands of Colorado voters spoke up in favor of GE food labeling," Kimbrell said in a statement.

Even with a down vote in Colorado, don't expect a dramatic shift in the debate around genetically modified crops.

Labeling proponents say the elections have been bought, not just in Colorado but in California and Washington state as well, and vow to keep trying. Earlier this year, the Grocery Manufacturers Association – which includes members like Kraft and Pepsi — proposed its own voluntary national labeling standard, but that effort has yet to gain any significant traction at the federal level.