GMO label law to go to Washington voters

Published on: Apr 30, 2013

A ballot initiative that would require all foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled will go to voters in Washington state this fall.

The initiative, to be listed as Initiative-522 (I-522), had been presented to lawmakers in the state in the form of a petition (Feedstuffs, Oct. 15, 2012) but now will go to voters because lawmakers did not act on the petition by April 28, the date that the legislative session ended.

GMO labeling would be required on all foods, including cereal and raw foods such as corn and other vegetables and does not make an exception for "natural" foods. (Organic foods are not permitted to contain GMOs by federal regulation.)

The initiative also includes a private enforcement provision that would allow citizens to sue for enforcement if state officials do not take action within 60 days on violations reported to them.

The petition was carried to the legislature by Chris and Leah McManus, who own an advertising firm in Tacoma, Wash., and say they consume only an organic, vegan diet, after legislators did not act on a GMO labeling law in their previous session.

It was supported by PCC Markets, a Seattle, Wash.-based cooperative that merchandises natural and organic foods and that collected signatures in its nine stores in the Puget Sound.

Meanwhile, similar legislation has cleared committee in the Connecticut House of Representatives and would cover foods made from crops that are genetically modified.

The bill contains a provision that, if passed by the Connecticut legislature, it would not become effective until two additional northeastern states pass their own GMO labeling laws.

GMO legislation is being pursued in Vermont, New Mexico and Oregon, but a ballot initiative in California last year calling for GMO labels was defeated by voters on a 53-47% vote (Feedstuffs, Nov. 12, 2012).

Supporters of the Connecticut and Washington measures say they are not trying to ban GMOs but only to give people the right to know if their foods contain GMOs.

Opponents cite positions taken by the Food & Drug Administration, American Medical Assn., National Academy of Sciences and World Health Organization that foods produced with GMOs are not materially different than foods produced conventionally and are safe.

They also caution that food prices would increase if GMO labels were required because of the costs that would be involved relabeling foods for particular states with GMO label laws.