GMOs and Initiative 522

On November 5th, Washington voters will have the opportunity to decide whether foods with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have to be labeled for purposes of disclosing this information to the public.  But what are GMOs and why does it really matter? GMOs are “plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals…[and result in organisms that] cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.” GMOs, in general, are used in order to withstand the direct application of herbicides and produce increased crops to help remedy the starvation that is rampant around the world. This blog is meant to inform versus persuade the average citizen about some details of Initiative 522.

Arguments against Initiative 522 are in bold and the response/rebuttal to the arguments follows. These are just the most prominent topics discussed regarding the initiative. Before voting, make sure to do your research to decide the truths about any topic. It is also important to know what companies put money into each side of the debate. For instance, the chemical and agribusiness company Monsanto has contributed several million dollars against this initiative. Sometimes important details as in where the money is coming from can help you determine the truth about a topic.

1. Consumer food costs will increase by hundreds of dollars each year. Since the costs of compliance for farmers and food manufacturers would sky rocket, the trickle-down effect to consumers will cost between $200 to $520/year for a family of 4.

-64 other countries have chosen to label foods with GMOs and there has not been any evidence in price increases. Farmers don’t package or label foods so that won’t affect them as far as costs go. Food producers already sell to foreign markets with labeling requirements for GMOs. Furthermore, non-genetically engineered seeds are cheaper for farmers to purchase. There is no evidence to suggest prices would increase by the amount those opposing Initiative 522 are saying. They are just using scare tactics for their campaign

2. Existing federal policies already provide consumers with information on foods with GMOs. The “USDA organic” label is a nationally approved standard for identifying foods without GMOs.

-USDA organic does not mean just GMO-free. The organic label is a very strict label and organic foods are more expensive due to a higher cost of farming organically. Knowing whether or not GMOs are in food should not just be for those that have the money to buy organic. It should be a right that consumers have to choose whether or not they want to consume foods with GMOs in them.

3. Foods with GMOs are safe.

-The USDA and FDA have never shown that foods with GMOs are safe. The FDA’s own scientists recommended long term independent safety studies. The current studies that show safety are directly tied to the biotech industry that stands to benefit.

4. Broad exemptions undermine the initiative’s goal of providing consumers information.

-The exemptions to labeling apply to alcohol, animal products (including dairy and eggs), and restaurant food. “The I-522 labeling requirements are consistent with current labeling standards, and when it comes to animals fed [genetically engineered] food, other countries don’t require labeling, so again, this is consistent with current standards, and far from arbitrary.” (3)

5. Regulations would increase state spending and costs to tax payers. Enforcing this new mandate would require the Department of Health to hire about 200 full time employees. Also, the initiative would give trial lawyers and any other person a special new right to file lawsuits against farmers, food manufacturers, and grocers causing “shakedown” lawsuits.

-The law would be enforced by the State Department of Health which already exists. While some additional positions will need to be created for enforcement, that price should be minimal. Trial lawyers are not the ones that will be responsible for litigating violators. “People, farmers or companies would only be litigated if they have willfully deceived the public.” (3)

Final personal thoughts: On the outside, this initiative seems like a no brainer. Of course I think that foods containing GMOs should be labeled and the consumer has a right to know. Upon review of the information surrounding it, I believe that it is not as cut and dry as I originally thought. I still plan on voting yes on initiative 522, but I do feel like there are political agendas in there, like any initiative has. Monsanto is a company that holds values far different than my own and I hope that the massive amount of money put into the “No on I-522” campaign does not scare people into not looking at the facts. With all else said, get out and educate yourself and then exercise your right to vote for what you believe!

  1. GMO facts.     
  1. Initiative 522:Costly, flawed and ill-conceived. Washington Research Council.  September 2013
  1. Rebuttal of anti-522 arguments. Printed 9/20/21013.