Proponents of the labeling initiative point to countries around the world with laws that require labeling or that ban imports and cultivation of genetically modified foods. Their map of countries requiring GE labeling shows all of Europe, most of Asia, Australia, Brazil, and several countries in Africa. North America – the United States, Canada and Mexico – does not currently require labeling.
Proponents argue that the lack of clear labels deprives American farmers and food producers from participating in an important global market. They also cite the growth of the organic food industry and say that these growers should be protected from the risks of contamination with GMO seeds or herbicides used on those crops.
Opponents say the existing organic market and labeling are sufficient to inform consumers.
Both proponents and opponents of I-522 cite scientific research to support their claims. Supporters say that genetically engineered foods can lead to unpredictable health and environmental consequences, in part through increased application of pesticides and herbicides to crops, some of which are engineered to be immune to particular chemicals.
Opponents of labeling say that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration have found genetically engineered foods to be safe and that the technology has helped crops resist disease or made them more nutritious. They say that 70 to 80 percent of foods sold in groceries today have some GE ingredients.
Farmers split on labeling
Agricultural organizations in the state have lined up on both sides of I-522. The Washington Farm Bureau and its Okanogan County chapter have come out against the labeling initiative, while many farmers – particularly organic growers – support it.
State Rep. Cary Condotta (R-East Wenatchee), whose district includes the Methow Valley, is co-chair of the pro-labeling campaign. Condotta said he began to research genetically engineered foods several years ago after wheat farmers called him about their concerns.