I-522 Initiative: Expensive and Unnecessary
To the Editor:
Next month, voters in Washington will decide whether or not to require the labeling of genetically modified products. The proposal, called the I-522 initiative, is very similar to the failed Prop 37 initiative in California last year. If passed, the law will require that any product sold in Washington containing a genetically modified ingredient be specially labeled as a genetically modified item. I-522 is a statewide initiative, meaning that the law would apply only to the state of Washington. However, it has far-reaching consequences for manufacturers who would have to create special labels for products due to be sold in Washington.
The dispute over the labeling of GMO products comes out of a much larger debate regarding the safety of genetically modified foods. Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology, also called genetic engineering or GE. This technology merges DNA from different species, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding. Thanks to advances in GMO technology, we are now experiencing increased crop yields, crop resistance to pests and diseases, reduced costs for food and drug production, enhanced food quality, greater food security, and numerous contributions to the field of medicine.
Through I-522, opponents of GMOs are trying to bring awareness to the “dangers” of genetic engineering by requiring the labeling of any food containing a genetically modified component. Currently, about 70 percent of the food on grocery store shelves contains one or more genetically modified ingredients. Therefore, a majority of the food supply in Washington would be subject to different, and inevitably more costly, regulations.
If I-522 is passed, the state will have to spend millions to cover the added costs to ensure that thousands of food products in thousands of stores are meeting the new requirements. Farmers and manufacturers will need to establish new operations for labeling, packaging, distributing and keeping record of foods sold in Washington, which is sure to be costly as well. And as if trial lawyers needed a new market for their services, you can be sure that the number of lawsuits will increase from disputes over the wording on food labels. America’s farmers, food producers, and small business owners do not need more liability-related expenses.
On top of the aforementioned, the proposed rules under I-522 are in themselves nonsensical and ineffective. Fruits, vegetables, and grain-based foods produced by farmers will be subject to required labeling laws, but meat and dairy products from animals fed with genetically modified grains will be exempt. Items sold in stores containing a GMO ingredient must be labeled, but restaurants will be exempt from having to notify patrons of whether or not their menu contains genetically modified food items. In addition, there is no proposed method of ensuring that foods imported from other countries are GMO-free.
The romanticized ideal of agriculture promoted by anti-GMO groups is simply not realistic for today’s society. Less than 1 percent of the U.S. population claims farming as their primary occupation. Compare that to 1900 when more than 50 percent of the population still lived on a farm or was employed in agricultural services. In 1900, the U.S. population was about 76 million. Today, it’s about 314 million and we export more food than ever before.
Genetic engineering is precisely the technology that has allowed American agriculture to produce exponentially more with only a fraction of the resources. Without such technology, we could never have grown enough food to meet our own needs, let alone global demand. The world population has doubled since 1960 and is predicted to double again by 2050. We need to focus on expanding agriculture to meet this ever-growing demand, not unnecessarily labeling foods whose dangers have yet to be identified. I-522 is attempting to generate fear among consumers and cause them to view their food with a suspicion that isn’t justified.
Since the beginning of time, innovation has been met by skeptics hesitant to change and progress. Genetic modification is no different. The I-522 initiative is simply another hurdle on the path to a stable and plentiful global food supply where no man, woman or child is forced to go hungry.
National Grange Legislative Director