I-522 hides real agenda about GMO foods

The OlympianOctober 22, 2013 

In this Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 photo, fishmonger Scott Smith tosses a just-purchased fresh salmon to a colleague behind the counter at the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. Washington state voters will decide next month whether to approve Initiative 522, which would require food and seeds produced entirely or partly through genetic engineering to be labeled as such for retail sale. In television ads featuring Pike Place Market fishmongers, organic farmers and others, supporters have hammered the consumer’s right to know whether the foods they buy were produced with genetic engineering, noting it’s not different from other food labels.

AP PHOTO/ELAINE THOMPSON

The promoters of Initiative 522 say they just want to give consumers more useful information about what’s in our food. They fail miserably on that claim by creating a selective labeling system for foods containing a discernable trace of genetically altered nutrients.

The initiative would confuse rather than inform, so voters should reject this poorly worded and deceptive initiative.

The writers of the initiative say consumers have a right to know what’s in their food. No disagreement on that point. But I-522 doesn’t provide the means for conveying reliable information.

Some foods with no genetically modified organisms would require a label, while other foods that do contain GMOs would not. The exemptions in this initiative would make no sense to consumers.

For example, the sucrose found in beet sugar and cane sugar are chemically identical. But the initiative would require labels on packages of sugar made from genetically altered sugar beets, not from cane sugar. Cheese gets an exemption whether or not it contains altered enzymes.

It’s obvious this initiative is designed for some purpose other than providing consumers with helpful information.

Hundreds of independent scientific studies have concluded that foods containing genetically modified organisms do not differ from non-GMO foods in safety, and are substantially equivalent to non-GMO foods in nutritional value.

That’s also the conclusion of the Washington State Academy of Sciences. It was asked by the state Legislature to analyze the issues raised by I-522.

Where the vast body of current scientific knowledge differs, however, is whether growing genetically modified crops poses any long-term threat to agricultural soils, wildlife or other plants. There’s no conclusive evidence on that point, but it is a worrisome possibility.

Unfortunately, I-522 doesn’t address this issue openly, or honestly.

Instead, it would splash a warning label on the front of food packages to suggest consumers have something to fear, when the real intent is to deter genetic engineering in agriculture by making the use of GMOs more complicated and expensive. Confusing consumers is a strategy toward that goal.

Most of Washington’s nonorganic farmers oppose I-522. For one reason, the initiative would encourage so-called bounty hunter lawsuits. If a negligible amount of GMO were found in an unlabeled food, any person could launch a lawsuit against the farmer and anyone in the processing chain, including small business people who put it on their shelves.

Supporters of the initiative point to the labeling requirements of the European Union. But the EU requires a GMO notation on the side or back of the product where other nutritional information is printed. It is not presented on the front of the package like a cancer warning about tobacco, as the initiative would mandate.

We share the concerns about the long-term environmental impacts that genetically altered crops might have on our planet’s ecosystem. That’s a discussion we should have openly, as a nation, and encourage independent research to continue on this topic.

When the preponderance of scientific evidence clearly points one way or the other on environmental issues, then we can make informed decisions about GMO regulation.

In that regard, I-522 is not helpful. It ultimately fails for purporting to be something it is not. The initiative cloaks a larger political agenda by appealing to our “right to know.”

Many defects plague this initiative, but that’s reason enough to vote no on I-522.

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