Close Results on GE Labeling in Washington State Raises Public Awareness of the Trouble with Modified Crops
(Beyond Pesticides, November 25, 2013) With nearly all the votes counted for Washington State’s Initiative 522, results show the measure defeated by a razor thin margin. After somber reports on Election Day had the measure trailing by 11%, supporters of I-522 urged patience as ballots continued to stream in (Washington runs an all-mail voting system). The race tightened up significantly, but ultimately succumbed to a 49%Y-51%N margin. Despite the results, Washington State’s initiative made incredible progress at raising awareness of the adverse health and environmental impacts associated with genetically engineered (GE) agriculture.
A number of factors also worked against the Yes campaign during the final weeks leading up to Election Day, including an enormous influx of money from agrichemical companies and food manufacturers, which financed an advertising blitz claiming the initiative would raise the cost of food. The placement of the measure on an “off-year” election also drove down voter turnout. Yeson522 co-chair Trudy Bialic explains, “There was lower than expected voter turnout this year. Despite being outspent 3-to-1, we are projecting winning 49% of the vote. We are disappointed with the results, but the polling is clear that Washingtonians support labeling and believe they have a right to know. This fight isn’t over. We will be back in 2016 to challenge and defeat the out-of-state corporations standing in the way of our right to know. “
The campaign to label GE foods is far from over, and consumer and environmental groups are vowing to continue the fight until consumers have the facts on whether the food they are purchasing contains GE ingredients. Upcoming battlegrounds for GE labeling includes possible legislation in Vermont, Hawaii, and New York, and a ballot measure in Oregon for the 2014 mid-term elections, where turn-out will be higher. However, these efforts assume inaction on the part of the federal government, as Senator Barbra Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Peter Defazio (D-OR) have introduced companion legislation that would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to “clearly label” all GE ingredients. The bills, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, H.R. 1699 and S. 809, have 48 cosponsors in the House and 14 in the Senate.
As the debate continues, the adverse impacts of GE agriculture are not going away, but instead continuing to make headlines:
- A new report from the Institute from Responsible Technology implicates GE food as a contributing factor to the rise of gluten intolerance.
- Following the discovery of illegal GE wheat in Oregon in May, and GE contamination of non-GE alfalfa in Washington State in September, Reuters reports that China has rejected a shipment of GE corn because it was contaminated with a variety, Sygenta AG’s Agrisure Viptera corn, not approved for import into the county.
- After the recent passage of Bill 2491 in Kauai County, Hawaii, which restricts pesticide use and requires public disclosure of GE crop production areas, the “Big Island” of Hawaii County moved to prevent the hardships many in Kauai have suffered by enacting Bill 113. This legislation bans agrichemical companies from operating on the island, and prohibits the growing of all GE crops except for the GE papaya.
- The New York Times published an analysis of the decline and near absence of Monarch butterflies at their end migration destination in the mountains of Mexico this fall, noting that the use of Roundup on GE herbicide-resistant crops has devastated Monarch habitat by nearly eliminating milkweed from rural agricultural landscapes.
While the fight over labeling continues in the United States, Germany, which already labels products that contain GE ingredients, is moving the debate forward by considering whether to also include labels on the meat of animals that have eaten GE-based feed. According to Reuters, a draft of a new grand coalition German government policy document states, “The coalition would seek an EU labeling duty for products from animals which have been fed with genetically-modified plants.” Much of the GE feedstock imported to Germany is grown in the United States.
The impacts of GE intensive agriculture on wildlife, local environments, and human health, in addition to the on-going problems of seed contamination leading to economic harm, are all compelling arguments that underscore the fact that consumers should have the chance to vote with their food dollars and not purchase products that promote these hazardous outcomes. In the absence of mandatory labeling, consumers can still 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.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.