When voters go to the polls today, they will be confronted with 146 referenda and initiatives in 41 states and the District of Columbia. Among the measures are several related to science and the environment, including genetically modified food, hunting and disease research.
The GMO labeling initiatives on the ballots in Oregon and Colorado have received the most national attention — and money. Both supporters and opponents of Oregon's Prop 92 have funneled millions into the campaign, making it one of the most expensive ballot measures in the state's history. Among the largest donors against the measure are PepsiCo Inc., Coca-Cola Co., Kraft Foods and seed companies DuPont Co. and Monsanto Co.
The latest polls suggest that the Oregon initiative has a chance of passing, while the Colorado one is facing likely defeat.
As the Wall Street Journal notes, the outcomes in these states could have national repercussions:
States and cities have a history of blazing a trail on food policies that are eventually adopted by the federal government. New York City, for example, required chain restaurants to display calorie counts on menus well before Congress mandated a federal requirement in the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
New York and Massachusetts are among the large states where lawmakers have introduced bills requiring GMO labeling. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) introduced a bill earlier this year that banned all state labeling requirements and gave sole authority over the standards to the Food and Drug Administration.
Vermont's labeling law goes into effect in 2016 but the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other food groups sued the state in June to block it. They said the labels forced them to convey an opinion about product safety with which they disagreed. Connecticut and Maine also have passed labeling laws but those mandates aren't triggered unless nearby states impose similar requirements.
Something else to keep an eye on as this debate continues to unfold: The Delta Farm Press is reporting that GMO labeling initiatives are beginning to appear in southern legislatures:
Until now, the southeastern states have generally been immune from activist attempts to force state and local governments to require such labels. But Bucky Kennedy, state affairs director for the Southern Crop Production Association, says those efforts are beginning to occur in some locales.
"We've seen an increase in the GMO labeling initiatives around the southeastern states that SCPA covers," said Kennedy, who was interviewed at the group's annual meeting in New Orleans. "In the 15 states we have, eight of them had some sort of effort for mandatory labeling of GMO products this year….we have a lot of new urban legislators who come in with information from folks who don't have an ag background and want to do something that's helpful for their side. But they also don't understand the unintended consequences that this piece of legislation may have on the ag community."
"Our concern is with mandatory labeling," he said. "We're in favor of voluntary labeling or letting the market dictate what should be listed. We're also supporting the federal labeling that's being pushed.
A federal law would be far preferable to 50 different pieces of state legislation that might evolve, Kennedy noted.
Meanwhile, ScienceInsider reports that, in Michigan, the conflict is over wolf hunting. Officials removed endangered species protections for the state's gray wolves in 2012, prompting State Senator Tom Casperson to introduce legislation that would designate the wolf as "game species."
Anti-hunting groups responded by collecting enough signatures to challenge Casperson's measure on this year's ballot, and many observers predicted they would win, in part because the state's voters in 2006 rejected a similar effort to allow hunting of doves. Pro-hunting forces responded with another legislative maneuver, however, forcing their opponents to add a second ballot measure. But the maneuvering didn't end there: Pro-hunting legislators then pursued a third legislative gambit to sidestep both ballot measures. The upshot: Even if voters approve the two antihunting measures, known as Propositions 14-1 and 14-2, the wins may not be enough to bar wolf hunting. The matter could end up in the state's courts.
Other science-related initiatives across the country, according to ScienceInsider:
- Alaska: Ballot Measure 4 would require legislative approval of a controversial gold mine proposed for the salmon-rich Bristol Bay area.
- Arizona: Proposition 303 would permit terminally ill patients and their doctors to use experimental treatments that have completed only preliminary phase I safety and dose trials. Colorado, Missouri, Louisiana, and Michigan already have similar "right to try" laws.
- Maine: Question 2 asks voters to approve $8 million in bonds to help create an animal and plant disease and insect control laboratory administered by the University of Maine's Cooperative Extension service.
- Maine: Question 4 asks voters to approve $10 million in bonds, to be matched by $11 million in private funds, to build a genomics and disease research center at the Maine Technology Institute in Brunswick.
- Maine: Question 5 asks voters to approve $3 million in bonds, to be matched by $5.7 million in private funds, to modernize and expand a biological laboratory specializing in tissue repair and regeneration.
- Rhode Island: Question 4 asks voters to approve $125 million in bonds for a College of Engineering building at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston.