Appearing on the November 2013 ballot, I-522 will give Washington voters the chance to require clear labeling of genetically engineered produce, seed and seed stock, and processed foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients. Also included in I-522 is mandatory labeling of GE salmon, which the FDA recently recommended for approval.
Polls show that over 90 percent of Washingtonians support enacting a GMO labeling law and that has the you-know-what scared out of The Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto, Dow, DuPont and Bayer – the five top contributors to the “No on 522” campaign.
So far, these corporate bullies have dumped $17 million into a media blitz designed to convince perfectly reasonable people that I-522 would “impose costly new burdens on Washington farmers,” “raise the cost of groceries for the average family by $450 annually,” and “cost taxpayers millions each year to implement and enforce.”
These arguments are based solely on the assumption that if given a clear choice, consumers will reject products made with genetically engineered ingredients – so it would be better if we didn’t have the information to make that choice.
The “costly new burdens” refer to the farmers’ expense of purchasing non-GMO seed to avoid labeling their products as GMO, yet hundreds of Washington farmers have endorsed I-522 and with good reason.
Agriculture is Washington’s No. 1 employer, with over 150,000 jobs tied to the apple, wheat and seafood industries alone. Agriculture also is Washington’s No. 2 export crop, second only to goods and services produced by the Boeing Company.
Our state is the fourth largest wheat producer in the country, growing over 41 percent of the nation’s white wheat and exporting over 80 percent of our crop. The top three importers of Washington wheat are Japan, Thailand and Taiwan — and all require GE products to be labeled.
When the USDA announced last May that unapproved GE wheat had been found on an Oregon farm, Japan, Thailand and Taiwan temporarily suspended imports of wheat from the U.S. There is very valid fear among wheat growers that if GE wheat is approved, Washington could lose its biggest export customers.
Apples are another big Washington export crop that faces danger. Seven of the 10 countries who import our apples also require the labeling of GE products. With over $7 billion dollars in economic output tied to Washington’s apple industry, there is real concern over the negative financial impact GE apples could have on our export market.
The claim that we will see a dramatic rise in the cost of groceries is based on a single study published by the Washington Research Council and paid for by opponents of I-522. The report assumes that companies will be forced by consumer pressure to replace GMO ingredients with either organic or certified non-GMO ingredients, therefore increasing the cost.
But I-522 does not require food manufacturers to alter their ingredients, only to label them if they have been genetically engineered. In fact, it does not require farmers to adopt elaborate new tracking systems, only to label genetically engineered seed or products grown with genetically engineered seed. And it does not apply to pet food; only to food for human consumption.
In order to conform to international standards, I-522 does not require labeling on animal products from animals that were fed GE grain, but it will apply to meat and meat products that come from genetically engineered animals, although none are currently approved.
And that part about it costing the taxpayers millions – it’s partly true. Based on a fiscal impact statement by Washington State Office of Financial Management, the millions mentioned actually refer to $3.3 million over a 6-year period for program and rule development, compliance and enforcement, and laboratory testing. According to our calculations, this equates to about .000002 percent of our state budget.
It all boils down to this: These giant multi-billion dollar corporations are afraid of their own customers.
So as you’re making your decision on I-522, consider what is in YOUR best interest. And remember, when an industry works so hard to keep information from the public, rarely is it in the public’s interest.
Eat informed and be informed!
Mark Ozias and Lisa Boulware are owners of The Red Rooster Grocery. Reach them at email@example.com.