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Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Supported Widely in Washington State, Industry Pushes Back

(Beyond Pesticides, August 13, 2013) Despite the defeat of California’s Proposition 37 at the polls last November, it’s evident that advocates of labeling genetically engineered (GE) foods have not let the loss slow them down. In fact, Prop 37 has acted as a rallying point, lifting the issue to national attention and highlighting the GE industry’s vain attempts to quash the national grassroots movement. Recent victories with high-profile supermarkets such as Whole Foods, states including Connecticut and Maine, and the introduction of a federal GE labeling bill in both Houses of Congress set the backdrop for the biggest food fight of the year, Washington State’s Initiative 522 (I-522Yeson522).

Washington State’s I-522 would require manufacturers selling foods containing GE ingredients to disclose their presence conspicuously on the front of a product’s package. The initiative comes at a critical time for the state’s agricultural economy, particularly the apple and salmon industry, which are threatened from GE counterparts currently being considered for deregulation. Aquabounty’s GE Salmon are designed to reach maturity faster than their wild counterparts, and a Canadian company is currently waiting for approval of a GE apple that won’t brown. But the biggest threats still come from multi-billion dollar transnational agrichemical companies and grocery manufacturers. For organizing purposes, most all the detractors of GE labeling can conveniently be viewed through the membership of the umbrella groups, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Council for Biotechnology Information (or the umbrella groups’ umbrella group – the “Alliance to Feed the Future.”)

Similar to California’s Prop 37, I-522 is up for a public vote at election time this November, and supporters are readying themselves for another expensive fight. Last year Prop 37 supporters were outspent nearly 6:1, with opponents pouring in nearly $46 million through deceptive ad campaigns nitpicking small sections of the bill as a be-all-end-all for the Proposition. At this time last year, Beyond Pesticides reported on the big push pesticide corporations were making to block the passage of Prop 37 – at that time they had only spent $750,000; but, as we saw this was only the tip of the iceberg. A similar situation may be panning out now. As of this week the Yes on I-522 Campaign has raised nearly $2.5 million, beating out the $951,000 raised by opponents.  Supporters will likely be outspent sooner rather than later, but that doesn’t mean I-522 will go the way of Prop 37. California’s fight made sure that voters in Washington State and across the country are more aware of the GE labeling issue than they were last year.  State-level polls currently show strong support for I-522, 66% in support to only 22% opposed; and 48% “strongly supported” the measure.

Washington State consumers aren’t buying the opposition’s attack strategy, as the firm that conducted the recent polling noted, “Support for labeling withstands a barrage of opposition attacks. After voters hear one message in favor of labeling and six messages against it, support for I-522 holds at 64 percent, while opposition only increases to 29 percent.”

Concurrently, state policies and initiatives are bolstering support and keeping the pressure on federal lawmakers to pass the Genetically Engineered Foods Right-to-Know Act, simultaneously introduced into both houses of Congress by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Peter Defazio (D-OR), respectively. A recent New York Times poll shows national support for GE labeling reaching 93%, a number consistent with past polls showing broad support that cuts across race, gender, socio-economic class and party affiliation.

Labeling GE food shows strong public support because it is simply about a consumer’s inherent right-to-know the ingredients that are in the food they purchase. Large corporations fighting against labeling transparency make it seem as though they have something they need to hide.

GE food is bad for the environment. It has resulted in a legacy not of decreased pesticide use as originally claimed, but of pest and weed resistance, which has resulted in increased pesticide use. Increased pesticide use threatens wildlife, particularly sensitive species. A 2012 study found the herbicide Roundup, which is sprayed on thousands of acres of Roundup Ready corn and soybeans, to induce morphological changes in three species of frogs. GE crop-induced herbicide applications are also indirectly affecting the health of beneficial species. Widespread applications of Roundup destroy sanctuary land and the plant species that support beneficial insects and other wildlife. A recent study reported on by The Los Angeles Times in 2013 shows a record decline in monarch butterflies, which can be directly related to the widespread use of glyphosate on over 120 million acres of GE corn and soy.

Due to a lack of adequate testing, the facts aren’t in whether GE food itself is safe for consumers, but we know that eating pesticide-laden food isn’t. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently revised the allowable residue limit of the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) in our food, despite its links to a range of diseases, including cancer, particularly non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in three separate peer-reviewed studies (1,2,3), ADHD, rhinitis, and hormone disruption.  The studies that have been performed on GE foods link their consumption to toxic effects, such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive issues that may also alter hematological, biochemical parameters. World renowned geneticist and biophysicist, and co-founder of the International Science Panel on Genetic Modification, Mae-Wan Ho, Ph.D., has cited numerous observations on the adverse impacts of GE foods, including severe inflammation of the lungs in mice, liver and kidney toxicity, damage to the organ system of young rats fed GE potatoes, and severely stunted pups.

The best way to avoid genetically engineered foods in the marketplace is to purchase foods that have the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic seal. Under organic certification standards, genetically modified organisms and their byproducts are prohibited. For many other reasons, organic products are the right choice for consumers. As Washington’s I-522 states, “While total United States food sales are virtually stagnant, growing less than one percent overall, the organic food industry grew at 7.7 percent according to 2010 data. Sales of organic fruits and vegetables increased eleven and eight tenths percent, accounting for approximately twelve percent of all United States’ fruit and vegetable sales. Organic dairy, another key industry in Washington state, grew at nine percent and comprises nearly six percent of the total United States dairy market. Organic farmers are prohibited from using genetically engineered seeds or livestock feed.”

To support Washington State’s labeling efforts, get involved with the Yes on I-522 campaign. National GE labeling efforts are being spearheaded by the Just Label It! campaign.  For more information on GE foods and labeling issues, see Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering website.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: The Seattle Times,  Seattle Weekly, HeraldNet

Image Source: Yeson522.com


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