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

Load up: Cheesecake Factory plans Lynnwood location

The chain restaurant is listed as a tenant in new development at Alderwood mall.

Sound Transit funding splits lawmakers trying to cut car tab fees

With the legislative session set to end March 8, pressure is building for action.

What to do when you get pulled over

Don’t forget to be considerate so officers will know you are not a threat to their safety.

Suspected drunk driver crash in Bothell sends two to hospital

The man suspected of causing the Saturday afternoon collision was not injured.

Downtown Granite Falls will be transformed

Acivic center, with a City Hall, a public plaza, a community room and a parking lot are in the works.

House Democrats: Use capital gains tax to keep property tax rate lower

But they are setting up a potential showdown with the Supreme Court over school funding.

Man seriously injured after confrontation in Marysville

Witnesses told police that they heard a gunshot and saw two men pile into a white suv.

Everett Community College Student Life’s diversity and engagement coordinator Katina Brown explains some of the props she made, including this one with the Florida school shooting victims’ photographs and names, for display Wednesday and Thursday in Parks Cafe. Brown and Student Life social justice and current events coordinator Cameron Calder hope to collect donations to help those affected by Florida’s tragic shooting as well as pay respect to the victims. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Support across the miles

EvCC students collecting donations to help Florida shooting victims and their families.

Northshore School District bond for new elementary now passing

As of Tuesday, the $275 million proposal was comfortably above the 60 percent supermajority.

Most Read