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High stakes in play on initiatives



SALEM -- Biotech and food companies have contributed $4.6 million to fighting a Nov. 5 ballot measure that would require labeling of genetically engineered foods.

The money given to oppose Measure 27, disclosed in campaign finance reports filed Monday with state elections officials, put the campaign on a record fund-raising pace for Oregon measures. The opposition effort has spent $1.9 million, mostly for radio and television advertising that is just beginning.
Most processed foods contain genetically engineered corn, soybeans or other products, and the measure would require that those foods to be labeled.

The money being spent against the measure reflects the concern the biotechnology and food companies have about such labeling, which they think would be considered warning labels, said Pat McCormick, a Portland political consultant who is treasurer for the campaign against Measure 27. The top contributions were $1.48 million from St. Louis-based Monsanto, a leading producer of genetically engineered crops, and $634,286 from DuPont.

"These companies believe their products are safe," McCormick said. "They wouldn't be selling them if they didn't. They take that very seriously."

But proponents of the measure say they just want labeling that would disclose what products contain genetically engineered ingredients. They say that if manufacturers have tested genetically engineered foods and determined they are safe, why not label them? No such labeling is required in the United States.

"We're not asking for a ban; we're not asking that research be stopped," said Laurie Heilman of Oregon Concerned Citizens for Safe Food. "We're just asking that consumers have a choice about what goes in their bodies."

Other campaigns for and against some of the seven initiatives on the November statewide ballot are attracting hundreds of thousands of dollars. Reports filed Monday covered fund raising and spending through Sept. 19.

Supporters of Measure 26, a proposal to prohibit paying initiative circulators by the signature, have raised $638,335, mostly from public employee unions. Initiative advocates who oppose the measure say they probably won't spend any money fighting it.

"We're an organized campaign of volunteers," said Dan Meek, a Portland lawyer who has worked on a number of initiative campaigns.

Opponents of Measure 23, which would create universal health care in Oregon, have raised $402,692. Four health care companies -- Kaiser Permanente, Regence BlueCross Blue Shield of Oregon, Pacific Source, ODS Health Plans -- each has contributed $50,000. A fifth, PacifiCare, contributed $55,000.

Measure supporters reported raising $22,023.

All told, 12 measures are on the ballot, including five the 2001 Legislature put there. But no campaign has attracted anywhere near as much money as Measure 27.

A total of $3.7 million given for fighting the food-labeling measure was funneled through CropLife International, the biotech industry's international trade association, headquartered in Brussels, Belgium. The money included the contributions from Monsanto and DuPont.

The Grocery Manufacturers of America enlisted other companies to contribute $900,000, including $94,123 from Pepsico, $88,921 from General Mills and $84,042 from Nestle USA, McCormick said.

The $4.6 million raised to fight Measure 27 could easily make the campaign the highest-spending measure campaign in Oregon history if the current pace continues. Organized labor spent a record $5.2 million to defeat two 1998 measures involving payroll deductions, then spent $4.8 million to defeat two anti-union measures in 2000.

The money Measure 27 opponents has raised dwarfs the amount collected by supporters. They reported raising $25,870 from July through early September, with $18,621 in the bank.

Efforts to require labeling of genetically engineered foods have failed in Congress, and the Oregon measure would mark the first time that the labeling issue has been considered by voters.

McCormick expects Measure 27 supporters will try to make their opponents' money a campaign issue, but he's not concerned. He said money is critical to getting opponents' message to voters.

"In political campaigns," McCormick said, "you'd always rather be the Goliath."

Dave Hogan: 503-221-8531;


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