Oregon proponents of labeling food made with genetically engineered ingredients have been cleared to begin gathering signatures to get a proposed initiative on next year’s ballot.

The Oregon Supreme Court has rejected arguments that the proposed ballot summary is inaccurate, which opened the way for proponents to start their signature-gathering campaign on Dec. 10.

To get a measure onto the November 2014 ballot, supporters of labeling for genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, would need to get 87,213 valid signatures by the end of June.

Scott Bates, acting director of the GMO Free Oregon group, said that proponents expect to be active along the Interstate 5 corridor and in the eastern part of the state.

“We have a really good volunteer base,” he said.

The group is currently planning to use unpaid signature gatherers, he said.

The prospect of getting an initiative on the ballot with volunteers is a daunting prospect even for popular proposals, said Scott Dahlman, executive director of the Oregonians for Food and Shelter industry group, which opposes labeling.

If the labeling proponents switch to paid signature gatherers, they’d have to line up funding for the effort, he said. “Getting signatures can be expensive.”

Oregonians for Food and Shelter had petitioned the Oregon Supreme Court to block the proposed ballot summary, claiming that it doesn’t sufficiently explain exemptions to the labeling law.

The group also fears that the summary doesn’t reflect the ballot initiative’s propensity to increase litigation against food companies over alleged mislabeling.

Dahlman said he’s hopeful that the proposed initiative will be declared unconstitutional for addressing multiple subjects, an issue that is still pending before the state’s highest court.

If the initiative were declared unconstitutional, any signatures gathered by proponents would be invalidated, he said.

Dahlman said his organization hasn’t yet begun fundraising to defeat the initiative if it makes it onto the ballot.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said.

Bates of GMO Free Oregon said his group was still considering alternative language for the proposed measure, which would again be subject to approval by Oregon’s attorney general and potentially the state Supreme Court.

Proponents are exploring that possibility to make the initiative more appealing to voters, he said.

Advertisements against a similar initiative focused on exemptions to the labeling rule and the measure was defeated, Bates said.

“We are digesting all those lessons learned,” he said.

A revised version of the ballot initiative would face a short timeline for signature gathering, however, so proponents are examining the feasibility of that option, Bates said.

Proponents would likely have to rely on paid gatherers if they decide to take that route, he said.


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