I-522: Stand up for your own choices against corporate influence

Guest Opinion: The public has a right to information about its food, despite the wishes of special interests with a history of resisting even basic labeling.
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Non-GMO sweet corn

Guest Opinion: The public has a right to information about its food, despite the wishes of special interests with a history of resisting even basic labeling.

The $17 million being spent by out-of-state corporations against Initiative 522, the measure to label genetically engineered (GE) foods, is no surprise to us in the grocery industry. We’ve heard the arguments against I-522 before, when the same out-of-state interests tried to squash other consumer-friendly labels.

The top donor against I-522, the Washington D.C. lobbying firm Grocery Manufacturers Association, fought for years against the mandate to list food ingredients and nutrition facts. Now the GMA has donated $7.2 million to the No campaign to mislead voters about I-522. Washington’s attorney general is suing GMA for damages from hiding its donors intentionally through an illegal slush fund. These illicit funds still are being spent to influence this election.

The No. 2 donor against I-522 at $4.8 million, Monsanto, funded the state-by-state campaign against even voluntary labels on dairy produced without GE hormones, which claimed labels would frighten and mislead consumers. A 2010 federal court upheld voluntary non-GE labels, citing “a compositional difference” between natural milk and milk from cows injected with GE hormones, notably higher levels of IGF-1 hormones, linked to several cancers. Elevated IGF-1 levels are in GE salmon, too.

Special interests fought trans-fats labeling for years. Special interests still are challenging country-of-origin labels, saying it’s useless information and shoppers don’t need to know anyway. Sound familiar? 

The make-believe predictions used to fight labels over the decades never materialized. Shoppers aren’t scared or confused. Sometimes labels shifted purchasing patterns yet companies continue to thrive. That’s how fair and competitive markets are supposed to work.

Complaints that I-522 is too strict, not strict enough and shoppers don’t need to know all are designed to make voters forget they want more information about their food. The corporations behind the No campaign are fighting any kind of genetically modified organism label, no matter what it says, or where. No label is acceptable. This fight is over transparency.

Claims that GMO labeling would raise food prices were bought and paid for by the No campaign. Real-world evidence shows laws to label GMO foods in 64 countries did not raise food costs.

Confused by I-522 exemptions? They’re already mandated by the Code of Federal Regulations on Food Labeling (Title 21). Labeling restaurant foods, processing aids, and most alcohol is precluded under federal law. I-522 can’t include them without contravening federal law.

To tell folks to buy organic if they want to avoid GE foods is undemocratic and cynical. The poorest and most vulnerable among us cannot buy organic as much as they’d like. Struggling mothers on WIC (Women, Infants and Children) are prohibited from choosing organic baby formula. Farmworkers who harvest our foods and seniors on limited incomes also should have equal access to the same information as anyone else when grocery shopping — no matter where they shop or what they can afford. I-522 will do that.

Voters have a choice: Stand with 350,000 Washingtonians who put 522 on the ballot, or the D.C.-based lobbying firm and out-of-state corporations Monsanto, DuPont and Dow that have a history of not telling the truth about their products — what they knew, and when. To assume the only way people will buy their products is to keep smuggling them into foods without shoppers knowing is the opposite of advertising, and contrary to fair and competitive markets.

The $17 million against I-522 would be better spent telling us what they believe is wonderful about their products, and let shoppers decide. Labels would ensure transparency and keep companies honest.

Shoppers want GE foods labeled for different reasons, including concern about increased pesticide loads on land and food, animal welfare, social equity and ethical issues in playing God.  We have a right to know how our food is produced.

I-522 will give all Washingtonians more information, more choice, and more control over what they’re eating — without out-of-state corporations deciding for us.

Crosscut has requested an article from the campaign against Initiative 522 and will publish it when it is available.


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