SEATTLE — The fight over genetically engineered food is heating up in Washington. This fall voters will decide on whether to support Initiative 522, which would require a special label on products that contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
Both sides are pointing fingers – charging opponents with misleading people about the issues.
But supporters of I-522 have an easy-to-remember message; they say people have a right to know what they’re putting in their bodies.
Demonstrators carried signs and cheered for I-522 outside the Westin Hotel as food companies held meetings inside.
“I believe that in the precautionary principle, we need to have transparency and openness and disclose,” said I-522 supporter Carin Chase.
Opponents of I-522 say the initiative wouldn’t require labels on all such foods – and would create consumer confusion
“(It) exempts two-thirds of the food and beverage sold in Washington,” said Dana Bieber with the ‘No on I-522′ campaign. “Under this initiative, no consumer would have a reliable way to know the ingredients that are in their food.”
That’s because while packaged foods would be labeled, prepared food at a restaurant or school cafeteria, for instance, would not.
Nell Abercrombie with the Central Co-op on Capitol Hill says they’re seeing a surge in customers looking for the little label.
“Most people just want to know what they’re buying and they want to have the freedom to make the choice,” said Abercrombie. “Many people have concerns about possible allergens in those foods that we don’t totally understand or other impacts those foods can have in our bodies.”
The food and farming industries call the health-risk argument fear-mongering and say these products wouldn’t be on the shelf if they were dangerous.
“We don’t believe that there is anything different between a GMO product and a non-GMO product,” said Tom Davis of the Washington State Farm Bureau. “They’re both safe.”
But if there’s nothing wrong with genetically engineered foods, supporters want to know why anybody would oppose letting people know that’s what they’re buying.
“Why is there opposition to labeling what’s in your food?” asked Chase. “There are 64 other countries that have some kind of regulation on genetic engineering in your food so why should we be hiding it?”
Voters can let their voices be heard in November when I-522 is on the ballot. If it passes, Washington would be the first state in the nation to require these labels.