By Courtney Sherwood
PORTLAND Ore. (Reuters) - An Oregon citizens' initiative that would require labeling of foods made with genetically modified ingredients has garnered more than enough signatures to gain a spot on the state's November ballot, a state government spokesman said on Thursday.
"It cleared easily," said Tony Green, a spokesman for the Oregon Secretary of State's Office.
Advocates collected 118,780 valid signatures, far exceeding the 87,213 needed to qualify for the ballot, according to the state certified count.
The initiative, sponsored by Oregon Right to Know, would mandate labels on raw or packaged foods that include any genetically engineered ingredients, beginning in 2016. It would not apply to food served in restaurants or to animal feed.
An opposing group called Oregonians for Food and Shelter, which advocates for the pesticide, fertilizer and biotech industries, said the initiative would be "costly and misleading."
Similar arguments – backed by millions of dollars in ad spending – have helped beat back similar labeling measures in Washington and California in recent years. Measures to label GMOs in those states appeared at first to have wide public support, but ultimately lost by narrow margins.
Oregon is only one of many states wrestling with the hotly contested issue of GMO labeling.
Advocates of labeling say consumers deserve to know if the food they eat are made with gene-altered corn, soybeans, sugar beets and other biotech crops. Currently, labeling of such foods is voluntary.
Most of the biotech crops on the market have been genetically altered to repel pests or tolerate direct spraying of herbicides. Those crops are used in a vast array of food products.
The companies that develop them say the crops are safe, and are backed by many scientific studies. But critics of GMO crops cite studies showing links to human and animal health problems, and environmental concerns.
Oregon activists last sought to label GMOs in 2002, in a measure that was defeated at the ballot box. In May, voters in two small Oregon counties approved controversial ballot measures to ban cultivation of genetically engineered crops within their boundaries.
Vermont, Maine and Connecticut have all passed GMO label laws, but none has yet gone into effect. A Colorado group is also seeking to get the issue on the ballot in that state in November.
(Reporting by Courtney Sherwood in Portland; Editing by Carey Gillam in Kansas City and Sandra Maler)