Once again, Oregon voters may be gearing up for a battle against the federal government. Over the past year, Attorney General John Ashcroft has worked to suppress the 1996 ballot measure that decriminalizes assisted suicide in the state. And now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced that they oppose pending ballot measure 27, a voter initiative that would require genetically modified foods to be labeled in Oregon.

In a letter to Governor Kitzhaber, FDA officials announced their opposition to Measure 27, calling it both unnecessary and contrary to FDA guidelines. The Yes on 27 campaign is also facing stalwart opposition from a coalition of corporate farmers, grocers, and restaurants who have staged a $6 million campaign to defeat the initiative. Their argument is that the law will add undue costs to food production.

The current battle bears uncanny parallels to the genesis of modern food labeling and inspection laws in the 1900s. Upset by unsanitary slaughterhouses and routine outbreaks of food poisonings at the turn of the last century, the U.S. Congress adopted new standards for food labeling and inspection. Led by women's clubs (who, at the time, did not have the right to vote), a small but determined group of citizens squared off against the agricultural industry. Like this current battle, government officials at that time also sided with the agricultural interests. But ultimately, the publication of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle helped swing a majority of senators' votes toward stricter guidelines for food inspections and labels.

Although proponents for Measure 27 do not have examples as graphic as unsanitary slaughterhouses, Craig Winters, co-director for Yes on 27, is optimistic that the measure will win and withstand a lawsuit, if the FDA brings it on. "We think we'll win [a lawsuit] because it is different from medicinal marijuana where there is a federal law that bans it," explains Winters. "There is no federal law that supersedes [GMO labeling]."