Not many food-conscious types are too excited about eating genetically-modified organisms. Whether a food has been engineered for herbicide-tolerance or to produce its own insecticide, the idea of eating something bred in a lab sounds a little freaky, right? Washington voters did not approve Initiative 522 in elections this Tuesday–but if they did, they would have been the first state to enact labeling requirements for foods with genetically engineered ingredients.
Having I-522 on the ballot proves that Americans want to know what’s in their food and has sparked a debate between both sides.
Will GMO Labeling Become Law?
Sixty-four countries already require labels to mention GMOs, but Washington would have been the first U.S. state to do so.
Currently no safety testing is done on GM food beyond finding a significant difference in toxins, nutrient, or allergen content. Those in favor of 522 want full disclosure when it comes to food labeling. So who was not in favor? Well, those profiting from the food and biotechnology industries, who raised $22 million for their campaign against I-522 — the most ever raised in Washington state’s election history and almost three times more than what was raised by those in favor of the law. Last November, many of the same opponents fighting Initiative 522 spent $46 million to defeat California’s similar Proposition 37.
Even if I-522 had passed, it was expected to be met with a freedom of speech/compelled speech lawsuit. If the law stood, any food offered for retail in the state would have been found to be misbranded if manufacturers failed to disclose, “if it was, or may have been, entirely or partly produced with genetic engineering.” The main headache for producers is the need to create a special label for states where it passes, which could trigger a national law to require consistent labeling across the board–which manufacturers would likely prefer over a hodgepodge of varied state-by-state chaos.
Can Consumers Afford GMO Labeling?
The effects of genetically-modified foods are officially unclear, making the cost of GMO labeling (and the tests associated with it) seem less worth it. The law would exempt food and beverages served at restaurants. Meat and dairy products from animals that ate GM feed would not be required to carry labels, either. Also exempt would be alcohol, certified organic foods and foods produced with GM processing aids. Processed foods in which GM materials account for 0.9 percent or less of the total weight of the foods would be temporarily exempt until 2019, when that labeling threshold would drop to zero.