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GMO food labeling initiative likely headed to ballot

Supporters of I-522 wheel signed petitions into the Secretary of State's offfice on Thursday.

OLYMPIA — The state's voters are likely to be asked next ffice.all whether food that contains genetically modified organisms must say so on its label to be sold in Washington.

Supporters of a ballot measure to require such labels filed petitions with an estimated 350,000 signatures Thursday, more than 100,000 more than required to qualify an initiative to the Legislature. If the signatures pass inspection, it will be sent to the Legislature during the upcoming session.

Supporters like Chris McManus of University Place, who managed the signature drive, said the proposal is simply about informing the public. . .

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“They're not being warned, they're being informed,” he said. “A little bit more information never hurt anybody about the foods they eat.”

But opposition is already starting to coalesce and representatives of the farm industry called the proposal an attempt to scare people away from food sources that have no known health effects. If the initiative wasn't about scaring people, asked Heather Hansen of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests, why did supporters deliver their petitions in an old ambulance?

The initiative would require any raw or processed food sold in Washington that contains genetically modified ingredients to be labeled. That would include fruits and vegetables, processed foods and even some seafood like genetically modified salmon, McManus said. Except for most meats and certified organic produce “there wouldn't be very much in the supermarket that wouldn't be labelled,” he said.

Many foreign countries require such labelling, he said.

Opponents said that would create big problems for farmers and food processors that would have to put special labels on a product that is in Washington and other states. Among the common food products with genetically modified ingredients are corn, soybeans, sugar from sugar beets and cottonseed oil. Those products are modified to resist insects or help control weeds.

Labelling standards should be set by the federal government, not by the individual states, Tom Davis of the Washington Farm Bureau said.

The Legislature rejected a bill last year that would have required labelling for genetically modified food. It gets the first crack at I-522 andcan pass it as written, making it law. Or it can reject it, sending it to the general election ballot, or pass an alternative, which would send both I-522 and the alternative to voters in November.

California voters rejected a similar initiative last November.

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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