Food labeling: Meaningless information serves no one

Guest Opinion: Initiative 522 will hurt Washingtonians, not help them.
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Margaret McCormick, Ph.D.

Guest Opinion: Initiative 522 will hurt Washingtonians, not help them.

In just a few days, Washington voters will decide on Initiative 522, a badly written food labeling measure on our statewide ballot that would give consumers inaccurate and misleading information about food products sold in our state. I-522 deserves a strong NO vote.

Food labels should be accurate and reliable, and provide meaningful information to consumers. I-522 fails on all counts.

As a mother, I care about the foods I feed my family. As a scientist, I also care about fact-based, accurate information. I know that foods with genetically engineered (GE) ingredients are safe and no different from other foods we buy — and that I-522 is a blatant attempt to try to convince consumers otherwise, against all legitimate scientific evidence.

The truth is that GE crops are safer for the environment and hold great promise for meeting the challenges of feeding a growing world population. Advances in agricultural biotechnology — such as the development of “Golden rice” provitamin A-enriched — also offer important health and nutritional benefits, especially for vulnerable populations around the world.

Passing I-522 would send a strong anti-science signal from our state that voters here are seeking to stigmatize and stifle these important advances.

But the most important issue facing Washington voters regarding I-522 is whether we will saddle our state with badly written regulations that will mandate inaccurate and even false information on food labels, while increasing grocery costs for Washington families.

I-522 is so poorly written that it would require thousands of food products to be labeled as “genetically engineered,” even if they’re not. Foods containing ingredients such as sugars that may have been derived from GE crops would require a warning label, even though there is no GE content in the food at all. At the same time, I-522 would exempt thousands of other foods — such as cheese, milk and meat — even when they contain or are made with GE products. It’s simply a bad labeling proposal.

And like all bad public policies, I-522 comes with tremendous costs. The Washington State Academy of Sciences concluded that I-522’s compliance requirements would increase costs for farmers and food producers seeking to sell products in Washington and that these costs would be passed on to consumers. According to an economic study by the Washington Research Council, I-522 would increase grocery costs for Washington families by hundreds of dollars per year.

All for a bad labeling policy that makes no sense and is not based in any sound science.

Consumers already have reliable options for choosing foods made without GE ingredients, if that’s what they prefer. They can select from thousands of products already labeled “organic” or “non-GMO.” I-522 conflicts with these already-existing labeling standards and would hinder consumer information — not increase it.

Finally, contrary to proponents’ claims, the regulations mandated by I-522 are unlike any other labeling regulations in the world. I-522 demands a zero threshold for any presence of GE ingredients, which is scientifically impossible to document. Unlike labeling regulations in other countries — however ill-conceived — I-522 also demands generalized front-of-package “warning” labels, rather than providing information about any specific ingredients. And, finally, no other country applies these types of labeling regulations to just one single state or province.

I-522’s Washington-only labeling regulations would only increase food prices for consumers and mandate inaccurate information on food products sold in our state.

Scientific and regulatory authorities in the European Union and elsewhere are now calling for “rethinking” of previous emotion-driven policies rejecting the promises of GE foods. Don’t let Washington be the lone voice in the U.S. to pursue a failed, unsound and anti-science approach to food labeling.

Please look into the facts and join me in voting NO on I-522.


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