News is spreading of Oregon’s upcoming ballot initiative on the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods. As we have told you before, activists are counting on consumers to interpret any label as a warning label. Craig Winters, who runs The Campaign to Label GE Foods (a group which is contributing both time and money to the Oregon effort), has acknowledged that ”Labeling has nearly the same effect as a ban.”

The Organic Consumers Association, a long-time opponent of food technology, now says that “if Oregon voters pass the initiative, anti-GE campaigners have vowed to place similar measures on the ballot in a dozen states.”

This threat is being heard as far East as Pennsylvania. On Saturday, editors at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staked out a position which, if typical among the media, could help defeat the Oregon referendum. They pointed out that biotech food production features both “increased production” and “benefits to the environment,” and noted that “the health of Americans has seemingly not suffered” as a result of having these foods on our tables. How, then to account for activist fervor to the contrary? “It’s easy,” says the Post-Gazette, “to detect in these objections a strong strain of anti-science, almost Luddite in its fury.”

The saddest consequence of this anti-scientific food activism is felt most among populations that can afford it the least. The Times of London made this point in its own editorial on Saturday, allowing that “some people do not trust GM [genetically modified] technology, do not trust companies developing it, and do not trust food containing it,” before concluding that “[t]he victims of this lack of understanding will be the developing world.”

Of course, front-line activists in this food fight have long insisted that organic-only agriculture holds the promise of avoiding the “Frankenfoods” that they claim to fear. But the University of California’s Martina McLoughlin put the lie to this train of thought last week, appearing on Phil Donahue’s MSNBC program. “If we were to switch to completely organic methods,” said McLoughlin, “we could feed, at the most, two billion to three billion [people]. What do we do with the other three to four billion that are already there?”