SEATTLE (AP) — PCC Natural Markets has joined the fight to force food companies to label products that include genetically modified organisms, a practice found in much of Europe and in Australia, China and Japan.
The Seattle-based grocery chain said it will spend $100,000 to help collect signatures in support of legislative Initiative 522, which would require labeling in Washington of food with GMOs. The company also has launched an in-store signature-gathering campaign.
By early January, the I-522 campaign needs to submit 241,153 valid signatures to the state, at which point the initiative would go to the Legislature. If lawmakers do not enact the initiative as law in some form — and they usually don’t — it would go before voters in November 2013.
Agribusiness giant Monsanto and others have spent more than $32 million to oppose a similar measure on the California ballot this fall. That’s $10 million more than Costco Wholesale spent to support a successful liquor-privatization initiative in Washington in November 2011.
Still, the measure in California appears to be winning. A recent poll by USC Dornsife and the Los Angeles Times found 61 percent of registered voters there support the GMO-labeling proposition.
“Don’t make any mistake, this is chemical companies” opposing labeling, said Trudy Bialic, director of public affairs at PCC. “It’s the same people who brought us Agent Orange, DDT and PCBs, and they’re saying now, ‘Trust us with your food.’ And people are saying, ‘No, we want to know what’s in it.’ “
Opponents of I-522 say state labeling requirements are unnecessary and would become expensive for food companies and ultimately consumers, particularly if states pass varying laws.
Much of the U.S. food supply already contains genetically modified ingredients.
More than half of the corn and soybeans grown in this country come from genetically modified seeds, which means DNA was taken from one species and inserted into the DNA of another to create a particular type of plant, such as higher-yielding corn or a redder tomato.
Proponents say GMOs can boost the food supply and that genetic modification has taken place for centuries in the form of grafting trees and selecting crops for certain traits.
Indeed, the World Health Organization says it has not been shown that human health has been affected as a result of eating genetically modified foods.
Opponents say GMOs raise health concerns, in part because the inserted DNA sometimes comes from animals, bacteria and viruses, not plants. They also dislike that GMO seeds can blow onto non-GMO farms, creating crops that sometimes require a certain chemical — for example, St. Louis-based Monsanto’s Roundup — to grow.
Then there is the export issue.
Wheat farmers in the U.S. and elsewhere have long opposed switching to GMO crops, largely because they can’t sell those crops to countries that have bans and labeling requirements.
The Soil Association, a U.K.-based charity that is an advocate of healthful food and farming, estimates that U.S. farmers’ inability to sell GMO crops to other countries might have cost the U.S. economy $12 billion from 1999 to 2001.
I-522 was filed by Chris McManus and his wife, Leah, a couple from Tacoma who eat vegan, organic food. After they watched GMO labeling bills die in the state House and Senate earlier this year, they decided something had to be done.
The owner of a small advertising firm, Chris McManus says he has spent the past six months putting his career “on hold to do this.” He soon will start receiving a campaign manager’s salary of $1,500 a month.
The state Public Disclosure Commission shows his cash contributions are only $260, but in-kind contributions from the couple and his firm total $8,758, which includes building the website LabelItWA.org.
The Northwest Food Processors Association, which represents small and large food companies, opposes I-522 because of the expense that would accompany varied state laws.
The issue should be handled at the federal level, said Dave Zepponi, association president. He added that buying organic should be enough for consumers wanting to avoid GMOs.
“You can effectively have the same outcome by buying organic. A product labeled organic cannot have GMOs in it,” he said.