Measure would require labels for genetically modified food

YAKIMA — Any food sold in Washington state and made with genetically engineered crops would have to be labeled under a ballot initiative submitted Thursday.

The move came two months after California voters rejected a similar measure that pitted food safety advocates against agricultural and biotechnology giants in a roughly $55 million advertising battle.

Opponents of the food labeling argue it will raise food prices and hurt farmers. Supporters contend that consumers should have a choice about eating genetically engineered products, even if the federal government and major science groups say such foods are safe to eat.

Proponents promised to take their fight to the Northwest after the California ballot measure failed.

On Thursday, initiative sponsors delivered 350,000 petition signatures to state officials inside an ambulance with a sign on the side reading “Label GMO Food.”

To qualify for the ballot, it requires at least 241,153 signatures of registered state voters, though the secretary of state’s office suggests collecting at least 320,000 as a buffer for duplicate or invalid signatures.

Initiative 522 would require food and seeds produced entirely or partly through genetic engineering and sold in Washington to be labeled as such, beginning July 1, 2015. Raw foods that are not packaged separately would have to be labeled on retail shelves.

Supporters say consumers benefit from having more information.

“Yes, you can steer clear of certain items, but unless you know that they’re there, how do you know to steer clear of them?” asked Chris McManus, the initiative sponsor and owner of a small advertising firm. “Putting a label on the front of that just informs the consumer a little bit more about what they’re buying.”

The nation’s food labeling system already is built around giving consumers information about health and safety, countered Heather Hansen, executive director of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests.

“We think this is really intended to be a scare tactic, to ultimately scare people away from technology,” she said. “And it’s not providing any meaningful information.”

Once the proposal goes to the state Legislature, lawmakers have the option to vote on it, take no action and send it to the November ballot, or recommend an alternative measure that will appear on the ballot with it.

About 50 countries require genetically modified foods to be labeled, but the U.S. isn’t one of them. Only Alaska has enacted legislation requiring the labeling of genetically engineered fish and shellfish products.

A bill in the Washington Legislature to require food labeling failed to pass last year, despite support from a coalition of wheat farmers who said they feared their export markets would be hurt if genetically modified wheat gains federal approval.

Biotech giant Monsanto Co. has announced plans to begin testing genetically modified wheat, though the product is likely a decade or more from being offered commercially.

More in Local News

Snohomish man, 63, missing from home since Monday

He left without his keys, wallet and phone, saying something about going to “the river.”

Firefighters come to the rescue and give mom new stroller

Donations to the Good Neighbor Program covered the $143.20 cost.

Case unresolved: The noose at an Edmonds construction site

Though two were fired over comments about it, police were unable to determine who put it there.

To get drug money, Lynnwood man says he cut 911 wires

Those wires happened to be the ones used by 911 dispatchers, but emergency services weren’t affected.

February trial set for suspect in deadly Marysville shooting

There had been questions about Wayne Alpert’s mental health.

Fatal car crash reported on Highway 92 near Lake Stevens

The 3 p.m. accident and investigation stopped traffic in both directions near Machias Road.

Motorcyclist killed in crash had high level of THC

A motorcyclist had more than eight times the legal limit… Continue reading

Front Porch

EVENTS Teen Night at the Schack The next free Teen Night is… Continue reading

Police: Driver threatens pedestrian, ends up in drug bust

Meth, cocaine and heroin were found in his car, along with a loaded pistol and cash, police say.

Most Read