Grocery Manufacturers Association: Reversing Early Support Defeats Costly Labeling Law

Overview

One of Europe's most controversial issues, mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods, faced its first test with U.S. voters on the 2002 Oregon ballot (Measure 27). CFM played a lead role in creating a communications program to defeat the measure.

Challenge

Just 10 weeks before the election, polls in the media showed 65 percent of Oregon voters favoring Measure 27. Research showed initial support for labeling was based on consumers' belief that they have a right to information, not concerns about the safety of biotech foods. That differed from public attitudes in Europe, where labeling proponents based their support on unsupported food safety fears raised by activists opposed to biotechnology.

Approach

Polling suggested that when Oregon consumers understood how biotech foods are regulated and how much labeling would cost, initial support for labeling withered. As part of the campaign, CFM contacted Oregon editors, resulting in editorials in all the state's major newspapers opposing the measure. During the campaign, CFM handled nearly as many media contacts from outside Oregon as from within.

Result

When votes were counted, 71 percent of voters resoundingly rejected Measure 27. European media seemed surprised by Measure 27's overwhelming defeat, as Oregon voters never responded to the food safety fears raised by backers of the measure. The Oregonian noted in its post-election editorial, "If such ideas...can't pass in Oregon, they have a fruit fly's chance of surviving in most other states."