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Push for GMO labeling comes to Colorado

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Colorado could be the next battleground state in the debate over labeling rules for genetically-modified foods. Activists are trying to get the issue in front of voters in 2014.

A group called Colorado Right To Know has filed preliminary paperwork for a GMO labeling ballot question. State officials will review the question’s language Wednesday and determine the question’s title, a necessary step before a petition drive can begin.

If approved, Right To Know proponents would need to pull together more than 86,000 signatures in six months to secure their spot on the 2014 ballot.

Genetically modified crops are grown widely across the country. Estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show about 90 percent of the nation’s corn crop is genetically engineered in some way.

While the Colorado rule as it’s currently written in the proposed ballot question includes some exceptions for pet food, chewing gum and alcohol, it’s fairly wide-sweeping. If voters give it a nod, by Jan. 1, 2016, any prepackaged, processed food or raw agricultural commodity that has been produced using genetic modification would need to bear the label: “Produced with genetic engineering.”

Many food companies don’t want labels connecting their food to genetic engineering, even though genetically modified ingredients have been a staple in the American diet for years. Opponents of GMO labeling bills -- like Kraft, Coca-Cola and Monsanto -- argue that if genetically engineered ingredients have been deemed by regulators to pose no health risk they don’t deserve an extra label.

These kinds of labels have been the subject of bitter battles. Recently, voters in other states have quashed efforts to label foods that include genetically-modified ingredients. Washington voters turned down a labeling rule last month. California voters did the same a year ago.

“GMO labeling is on the rise as a hot topic in Colorado communities and households,” the group’s website reads. “Right to Know Colorado believes that Colorado consumers should have a choice when it comes to the ingredients and the food they ingest.”

Colorado Right to Know co-chair Tryna Cooper seemed unfazed in comments to the Northern Colorado Business Report.

"We don't plan on losing in Colorado," Cooper told the NCBR. "It's our right to know what's in our food."

Voters in Colorado may soon have the chance to decide.

As KUNC’s reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.