With Initiative 522 now in front of Washington state voters—official mail-in ballots have already been sent out—the battle over mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients is about to take a dramatic turn.
That’s because all available evidence indicates as much as a double-digit lead for proponents of “Yes on I-522,” which would require certain processed and packaged foods made with genetically engineered ingredients to carry labeling starting exactly that.
The supporters of I-522 are waxing positive, and with some validity. More than 350,000 people signed petitions to put the measure on the general election ballot earlier this year, and the latest Elway Poll conducted just last month found 66% of likely voters would “Definitely or probably” vote in favor of the measure.
The actual language of I-522 reads as follows:
“This measure would require foods produced entirely or partly with genetic engineering, as defined, to be labeled as genetically engineered when offered for retail sale in Washington, beginning in July 2015. The labeling requirement would apply generally to raw agricultural commodities, processed foods, and seeds and seed stock, with some exceptions, but would not require that specific genetically engineered ingredients be identified.”
As has been the case in other states—notably California last year—the groups pushing I-522 are trading on the notion of a “consumer right to know,” with the unspoken but obvious rationale being that labeling is needed so that people can avoid buying and eating GMO-containing products.
That message is apparently resonating with voters, and on Nov. 5, Washington will become the first state to mandate GMO labeling.
Of course, that’s not a certainty, given the amount of No on I-522 advertising currently flooding the state, paid for by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto and Dupont Pioneer, which collectively have contributed more than $16 million to the anti-labeling campaign.
Opposite sides of the fence
But all signs point to a resounding defeat for industry groups opposing the measure, and a front-page story in a local newspaper on Sunday, quoting two producers on opposite sides, explored the reasons why.
Tristan Klesick; a farmer-rancher who raises organic produce and markets grassfed beef from his small herd of Highland-cross cattle, supports the measure, while Andy Werkhoven, co-owner of Werkhoven Dairy operating locally in Snohomish County, is opposed.