Ballot measure I-522 would require the words ‘genetically engineered’ (GE) or ‘partially produced with genetic engineering’ stated ‘clearly and conspicuously’ on packaging for some food items. I-522 appears consumer friendly, but we should reject this law as unrealistic for Washington. We need national solutions.
As Karen Larsen reported in the Empire Press last week, three Waterville farmers have set up a Political Action Committee called Farmers and Friends of I-522 to support the measure. They have three main promotional themes: individuals triumphing over giant corporations, consumers winning the right to know what’s in their food and Central Washington farmers protecting their wheat crops from contamination by GE.
Protecting local wheat is crucial to avoid destroying foreign markets that won’t accept wheat contaminated by GE.
Unfortunately I-522 is a state initiative on the forefront of a national campaign to appeal to consumers, not to protect local crops. Passage might please people complaining about corporate giants such as Monsanto, but I-522 wouldn’t help us know what’s in our food.
The bill would coerce Washington into being the first state to experiment with a punitive labeling bill on GE. A large majority of farmer and business organizations oppose I-522. We should understand why.
Read the act. The highly technical definitions of GE and the exceptions confused me. I have sat on juries and I couldn’t reliably decide whether or not food should be labeled GE. Either could a highly respected agriculturist.
“I-522 would not give consumers a reliable way of knowing which foods contain genetically engineered ingredients and which do not,” said R. James Cook, a distinguished agricultural scientist at Washington State University. “Such labels would be misleading at best and in many cases false.”
Another danger is I-522 would codify current scientific processes that our cash-strapped State would have to constantly upgrade in an age of rapid scientific change. How could one state regulatory body having to work in tandem with a balky legislature possibly keep pace with international changes in food processing? It’s a fool’s errand.
“I-522 would require a new state government bureaucracy to monitor and enforce new labeling requirements on thousands of products in thousands of stores statewide, costing taxpayers millions,” said Dan Newhouse, a former director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
Supporters dismiss the fear of excess costs, but the Office of Financial Management estimates regulation would cost over $3 million not counting fines and fees that producers would pass on to consumers.
“The truth is, no one can say with any certainty how much the costs will be until such a measure is enacted,” said the Seattle Times.
Why risk being the nation’s testing ground?
Read the long list of state farm and business organizations that oppose the bill, including the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, Washington State Farm Bureau, Washington State Hay Growers and Chelan/Douglas County Farm Bureau. They’re not malicious, giant corporations. They’re our local farmers and friends.
Another problem is the punitive labeling designed to intimidate consumers against a theoretical hazard of GE foods that the FDA and food scientists conclude does not exist. Organic food businesses helped write the labeling so it reads like a warning in hopes frightened consumers would buy more organic foods.
The punitive label is the opposite of regulations permitting producers to label products organic. Producers apply to the U.S. FDA according to national standards. Organic producers charge higher prices and promote organic foods as safer, but there again, the FDA sees no scientific need to require all food meet organic standards.
We need a fair national process to label food non-GE, perhaps based on the model promoted on the website for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Its website describes their lengthy, costly process to define and set standards for their ‘Non-GMO by origin’ label. It’s a high cost commitment.
Proponents, get approval from the U.S. FDA to label food non-GE. Pay for your own applications and promote the label to convince Washingtonians it’s worth the higher price instead of penalizing Washington’s growers, food producers, consumers and taxpayers.
Vote no on I-522. It mandates a confusing, misleading, regulated, costly punitive label designed by special interests for no justifiable scientific reason.