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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Health

State may vote on GMO labeling

Genetically engineered food targeted in proposal

From left, Charles Mish, Orlando Bauman and Chris McManus roll boxes of signed petitions for Initiative 522 into the secretary of state’s office in Olympia on Thursday. (Jim Camden)
From left, Charles Mish, Orlando Bauman and Chris McManus roll boxes of signed petitions for Initiative 522 into the secretary of state’s office in Olympia on Thursday. (Jim Camden)

OLYMPIA – State voters are likely to be asked next fall whether labels on food sold in Washington must identify any genetically modified organisms among the ingredients.

Supporters of a ballot measure to require GMO labeling filed petitions with an estimated 350,000 signatures Thursday, more than 100,000 above the amount needed to qualify an initiative to the Legislature. If the signatures pass inspection, the initiative will be sent to the Legislature during the upcoming session.

Supporters such as Chris McManus, of University Place, who managed the signature drive, said the proposal is about informing, not warning, the public: “A little bit more information never hurt anybody about the foods they eat.”

But opposition is beginning to coalesce. Farm industry representatives call the proposal an attempt to scare people away from food sources that have no known health risks. 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 special labels on any raw or processed food sold in Washington with any genetically modified ingredients. 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 labeled,” he said.

Many foreign countries require such labeling, he said.

Opponents said that would create big problems for farmers and food processors, who would have to put different labels on the same products if they’re sold in Washington and in 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.

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

The proposed initiative comes two months after California voters rejected a similar ballot measure.

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

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