Why I’m voting yes on Initiative 522

Food labels changed my life.

It sounds dramatic, but I genuinely believe I would be leading a completely different life if not for mandated food labeling. The day I began flipping to the back of packages was the day I began losing weight; it was the day my life changed course from fat, sick and tired to vibrant, active, and balanced. Straightforward and uniform food labels changed my life – for the better.

As a registered Washington state voter I feel excited and privileged to be able to vote ‘yes’ on Initiative 522 when I fill out my November 5th ballot. The passage of I-522 will require a statement on commercially packaged foods indicating the inclusion of genetically engineered (or modified) ingredients, known as GMOs. I believe we all have a right to know as much about the food we are buying as possible.

Recent advances in food science have impacted agriculture and manufacturing practices to the extent that a simple list of ingredients is no longer sufficient to know what we may be consuming. Once I-522 passes, packaged foods will continue to be as available as they are now. It will be up to consumers to select products based on whatever aspect of the packaging they choose. In my mind, this additional labeling is similar to the nutrition panel on packages or the displaying of calories on restaurant menus.

It was not long ago I chose packages based the images and claims on the front. My eye would be caught by claims of “new crunchier texture” or “now with more chocolate.” Doesn’t it seem like there is always some “new and improved” aspect to our favorite treats? These days I am still drawn by the images on the front of packaging, but before plopping a bag or box into my grocery cart I seek out that nutrition label to see if claims on the front match the numbers on the back. “Healthy!” doesn’t necessarily mean high fiber, moderate amounts fat, low sugar, ample protein or any of the other factors I consider part of a nutritious food.

The No on I-522 campaign has tried using its advertising to scare and confuse voters about the costs associated with the passage of this initiative. One of their primary messages cites an increase in the cost of groceries when new language is added to commercial packaging. Let’s think about this in terms of common sense. The last time you were in a grocery store, I’ll bet there were numerous cereal or snack food boxes with marketing images from a current or upcoming movie and beverage cans with football season images. Packaging changes All-The-Time! Did you ever buy a box of Wheaties for the athlete on the front panel? For YEARS my dad displayed a box of Wheaties featuring Steve Largent on top of our kitchen cabinets, he later added Michael Jordan, and I think an Olympic athlete may have joined the pack at some point …

Those boxes are a prime example of how frequently companies update their packaging. Sure, you are paying for it, but the costs of those regular redesigns were factored into the price of product long ago. Adding a few new words to the front of a cereal box should not add to the normal cost of doing business.

In another of their television commercials, the ‘no’ campaign argues that requiring labeling would be against the national standard. (Had I been sipping something when I first heard the ad liquid would have assuredly splattered out of my nose.) Of course adding this language would be “against the national standard”; when it comes to labeling GMOs, there is no national standard and huge food science corporations are funneling big bucks into the ‘No’ campaign’s marketing to keep it that way. Funny, though, they neglect to mention the international standard. Around the world, 64 countries require this very type of retail package labeling. In fact, those very same corporations that are paying for the ‘no’ votes sell products in those 64 countries with this labeling when appropriate.

My pantry is full of packaged foods. I imagine this is also the case for most of my readers. I appreciate the convenience of packaged foods. Thanks to advances in science and technology the average person is able to get milk from a refrigerator, rather than a cow, and cereal from a cheerfully decorated box, rather than harvesting, threshing, milling, and baking the grains in their home oven.

I am not going to lead a charge against packaged foods, I just want to be able to trust my food chain. Every night before we eat, our family says a prayer. Our intentions almost always include a request to “bless all the hands that have brought this food to our table.” We pray that anyone who makes decisions about the growing and processing of food is concerned with the long-term health and well being of the people they are ultimately feeding.

I believe information and education can have a tremendous impact on our everyday lives. I believe we all have the right to know what is in our food and that every person may decide what to do with the information once we have it. I do not believe anyone should withhold information that may fundamentally impact the health of others. For these reasons I will be voting ‘yes’ on November 5th and I sincerely hope you will, too.

For more information, including answers to some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs), Check out Yeson522.com.

If you would like to read the perspective of an out of state advocate for I-522, check out this eloquent and passionate post by The Food Poet.

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