By Vanessa Lopez, CAGJ Volunteer
This coming November, Washington state citizens will get a chance to vote on yet another controversial issue, leading the US in progressive social change….at least we hope. Initiative 522 (I-522) was submitted to the state legislature on January 4th with 340,000 signatures representing Washington citizens who believe that they have the right to know if the food they are about to consume was genetically modified. In the months leading up to the vote, I will be offering a well-rounded analysis about the issue with resources and links to keep you intelligently informed. For now, I want to start out with the basics. As an initiative, there are three possible paths for I-522. Legislators can pass it into law just as it is, place it and a legislative alternative on the ballot, or place it on the ballot for a public vote just as it was submitted. At this point, only the last option remains. So the race begins! Two support groups have formed to further the argument for, Yes on 522, and against, No on 522, the initiative. According to Food Democracy Now’s Dan Flynn, “No on I-522 has already received almost $1 million from five big guns:
- The Grocery Manufacturers Association ($472,500)
- Monsanto (242,156.25)
- DuPont Pioneer ($171,281.25)
- Bayer Cropscience ($29,531.25)
- Dow Agroscience LLC ($29,531.25)
They also spent $110,000 contracting Winner & Mandabach Campaigns”, a ballot measure consulting firm who has had success in 3 recent Washington campaigns – “for charter schools, against a soda tax, and for the privatization of state liquor sales”. Funding can equal immense power and an understanding of who funds political issues certainly gives you an idea of who cares about the issue. This was especially important in the late defeat of Proposition 37 in California, where the opposition outspent the supporters by about 40 million dollars. Some of the same groups that defeated proposition 37 in California are opposing Washington’s I-522 by claiming that labeling should not be required because it would:
- Unfairly hurt Washington farmers, food producers and grocers;
- Create more state bureaucracy, costing taxpayers millions;
- Increase food prices paid by Washington families;
- Potentially lower agribusiness profits by reducing sales among consumers who have a baseless fear in GMO’s (ok I added that one, but I have a feeling it was in their first draft of the platform)
“Yes on 522” has a different perspective. They believe that consumers have a ‘right to know’ if a food or processed food ingredient contains genetically modified DNA. If this initiative is passed by Washington voters, the decision to consume genetically modified food shifts away from the producer, processor, chemical or agroindustrial industry and falls directly on the shoulders of the consumer. According to Yeson522.com, bipartisan “support for the initiative is diverse and widespread across the state”. It includes community groups, environmental organizations, health organizations, and businesses both local and national. A full list of the campaign’s endorsements can be found here, but some examples include:
- PCC Natural Markets
- Marlene’s Market
- Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps
- Nature’s Path
- Ben & Jerry’s
- Clif Bar
- Amy’s Kitchen
- Whole Foods (which recently announced that it will require the labeling of genetically modified food in its stores within five years).
There are currently 4 produce foods and multiple processed foods that would be labeled based on I-522 legislation. Produce foods include sweet corn, zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, and papaya from Hawaii. Labeling of GMO’s is already underway in 60 countries (see map). Some benefits of labeling foods proposed by I-522 legislation are that it:
- Enforces a consumer’s basic “right to know” how food is made;
- Empowers consumers to reject or support the practice of GMO’s by voting with their dollar;
- Does not increase production costs and therefore does not increase end-consumer prices;
- Educates consumers on how pervasive GMO’s have become in the industrial food system;
- Allows consumers to avoid potentially allergenic foods;
- Creates clarity for farmers and gardeners who have a right to know if they are using a genetically modified seed.
In March of this year, the Huffington Post released findings from a HuffPost/YouGov poll aimed at understanding U.S. attitudes towards genetically modified food. Among various conclusions, it indicates that while “Americans are largely uncertain over whether genetically modified foods are safe for the environment or safe to eat, 82% of Americans think foods containing genetically modified ingredients should be labeled. The vast majority of respondents across demographic groups favored labeling, with little division by political party”. We’ve seen how federal legislation can operate completely outside of American popular opinion, for example gun control in the US, but I think the more poignant matter regards how people responded in light of their relative ignorance about the issue. “Only 22 percent of respondents said they’d heard a lot about companies developing genetically modified crops, 48 percent said they had heard a little, and 25 percent said they’d heard nothing at all.” This gap is exactly what the opposition will exploit in an effort to turn public opinion away from GMO labeling. It is common knowledge that we fear what we do not understand. What is the best way to leverage that principle? You keep operations at a whisper and squash any attempts at public understanding of the issue. That 82% favor labeling gets overshadowed by high confusion over the issue and opposition marketers manipulate fear to their advantage.
Here is how you can diminish the opposition’s impact and support adoption of GMO labeling:
- Visit www.Yeson522.com to gain facts, news, answers to frequently asked questions, and ways to support grassroots operations.
- Gain a deeper understanding of GMOs by attending one of the many information sessions around town. Click here for a list hosted on www.Yeson522.com
- Host a Kitchen Conversation with your family, friends, and neighbors about why labeling GMOs matters.
- Support financial needs and goals by pledging support here.
Changing tides: Just two months ago, Connecticut made history as the first state to pass GMO labeling laws. While their laws will not go into effect until “four other states in the northeast region enact similar laws”, the thirst among American consumers to make educated decisions through GMO food labeling is growing stronger and louder. You might say it’s growing faster than a Monsanto super-weed.