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Opinion

Sun., Oct. 20, 2013

Initiative 522’s poor writing would leave consumers misinformed

Initiative 522 on the November ballot would mandate special, Washington-only food labeling regulations for selected foods that may contain ingredients made from “genetically engineered” (GE) crops.

This badly written measure deserves a no vote.

I-522 would provide misleading and inaccurate information on food labels for Washington consumers and increase grocery prices for Washington families. It would also disrupt our state’s vital agricultural economy and place unfair burdens on farmers and food producers who grow and sell products in Washington.

GE crops are crop varieties that have had one or more genetic traits added by the “cut-and-splice” transfer of DNA from another plant or organism. In each case, a gene has been added to the crop plant to produce a protein that gives that plant a beneficial trait such as resistance to an insect pest or plant disease. Genetic engineering can also eliminate a gene and hence production of a protein, such as an allergen.

All GE crops grown today in the US and Canada were developed to provide a safer, more effective or more economical means to control weeds, insects and diseases.  Keeping crops healthy and weed-free is the biggest challenge farmers face year after year.

Today’s GE crop varieties have allowed farmers to reduce the use of pesticides, conserve soil and water and use fewer, safer and more effective herbicides.

The remarkable rate of adoption of these crops worldwide has helped to keep food prices down while improving the quality and safety of our food and reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture.

There are hundreds of scientific studies documenting the safety and benefits of GE crops, and major scientific and medical organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association have all concluded that foods made from crops with GE traits are just as safe and no different from their conventional counterparts.

Yet I-522 would mandate special labels for these foods – only in Washington – unless they are remade with higher-priced, non-GE ingredients. These special labels would be required even if the foods themselves do not contain any GE proteins. In other words, many foods would have to be labeled as “genetically engineered” even if they’re not. The result would be a costly and misleading labeling system just for our state that provides no benefit.

I-522’s costly regulations would hurt all farmers and food producers seeking to sell food products in our state – whether or not they grow GE crops or handle GE ingredients. Its complex compliance requirements would impose new burdens and increase costs throughout the food supply chain, which would be passed on to consumers through higher food prices. The Washington State Academy of Sciences concluded in a white paper on I-522 requested by legislators that the costs of actual labeling are only a tiny fraction of the costs of compliance and certification of no co-mingling of GE with non-GE crops along the chain of custody from farmer to retailer.

Consider further that enforcing the requirements of I-522 will create another state bureaucracy, yet the measure contains no revenue source to pay for this new bureaucracy and sets no limit on the cost to taxpayers for meeting its requirements.

I-522’s ill-conceived, unscientific labeling regulations would impose costly and unfair burdens on Washington farmers and food producers and would increase food prices for Washington families – while providing consumers with inaccurate, unreliable and misleading information about the foods we buy.

Please look into the facts and join me in voting no on I-522.

R. James Cook is a plant pathologist; professor emeritus, Washington State University; member of the National Academy of Sciences; and co-recipient of the 2011 Wolf Prize in Agriculture.


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