Oregon GMO Labeling Recount Doesn’t Change Outcome

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Portland, OR—The vote on Measure 92 in Oregon’s November election, which would have required special labeling for genetically modified foods, was close enough to trigger a recount. But despite the glimmer of hope that recount provided to supporters of the measure and a last ditch lawsuit, the recount came up short of allowing the measure to pass.

In the days immediately after the election, most news outlets reported that the ballot measure had failed by a slim margin. But as final vote counts trickled in from across the state, the already tiny margin narrowed further, to as few as 800 votes, and it became obvious that an automatic recount would be triggered. But after the recount began, as multiple Oregon counties recounted their votes and sent them to the Secretary of State’s office, reports indicated that the vote margin remained nearly the same.

Supporters of the measure had helped bring about the recount by engaging citizens whose votes had not been counted because the signatures on their ballots did not match the signatures found on their voter cards. A new law required the state to release the names of voters who had invalid ballots, and the Yes on 92 campaign encouraged these people to correct their votes so they could be counted.

As news broke that the recount was not going well for the Yes side, sponsors of the measure filed a lawsuit asking for a temporary restraining order against the recount being finalized. They argued that 4,600 of the 13,000 originally “challenged” ballots still remained uncounted and were being unfairly ignored. The lawsuit said only ballots that could be proven fraudulent or forged should be thrown out, and that the current process disenfranchises many voters.

A judge shot down the lawsuit on December 9, and the recount concluded with the outcome remaining the same, making Oregon the fourth state to reject GMO labeling behind California, Washington and Colorado.

Despite the defeat, the national conversation about GMO labeling continues to heat up. The U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on the safety, labeling and regulation of GMOs in food on December 10. One issue on the table was a proposed federal bill, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014, which would specifically prohibit any mandatory GMO labeling policy from being put in place by any state.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, January 2015