What is a GMO?
GMO stands for genetically modified organism. Meaning that bacteria, plants, fish, and mammals can be changed through a DNA injection to create a “new and improved” organism or product. When a food product is created with a genetically modified organism, it is considered a GMO food product. Examples of this include anything from a grapple to a seedless watermelon.
What is initiative 522?
Washington Initiative 522 is legislation aiming to reform the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The general election will vote on this issue on the Nov. 5 ballot and if passed, it will go into effect on July 1, 2015.
Already this year 26 states have introduced labeling legislation. Washington State is not the only state facing pro-labeling groups. According to USA Today, some states have reported that they will not enact labeling laws until other states have also enacted similar laws.
The official ballot measure summary states: “This measure would require foods produced entirely or partly with genetic engineering, as defined, to be labeled as genetically engineered when offered for retail sale in Washington.”
Many in support claim that GMOs are unhealthy, although there is little evidence to these claims. Others in support feel that is about information.
Elizabeth Larter, director for the Yes on 522 campaign previously stated “This campaign is not about whether GMOs are good or bad; this is really just providing more information for consumers.”
Some of the stated reasons for the initiative, as listed in the introduction, include religious belief, health concerns, environmental concerns, economic concerns, and trends in consumer labeling laws.
In a recent Seattle Times article key details to this bill mentioned are that food sold in restaurants and alcohol are exempt, certified organic food is exempt, animal meat must be labeled, but not meat from animals that ate genetically engineered feed.
Although there are many strange exceptions in the initiative, the goal is to ensure foods are labeled, when appropriately, as “genetically engineered”, “partially produced with genetic engineering” or “may be partially produced with genetic engineering.”
Breaking down the Budget
According to the campaign finance, as of Oct. 4, funds to oppose the bill have reached $17,168,234 and support for the bill is at $5,848,233.
A Seattle Times article says that both sides in this campaign are making false claims about the cost of I-522. One side is saying it won’t cost much and the other side is talking about millions of dollars. The Seattle Times claims both claims are false. The state budget office has claimed that that implementing 522 will cost the health department $3.4 million over six years.
What Does Yes On I-522 Say?
• Genetically engineered organisms such as the Aqua Bounty salmon would require labeling. Alaska has already passed a law in 2005 to label all genetically engineered seafood and fish.
• Shoppers will be privy to information about all products they are buying and eating.
• There will not be an impact on food prices because label updates are routine in the food industry.
• This initiative has been modeled on the most common global GE labeling standards, making Washington no stricter than global standards.
• Meat and dairy from genetically engineered animals would be labeled.
What Does No On I-522 Say?
• To ensure their products are not labeled as GMOs, farmers would have to remake products with more expensive and specially handled ingredients.
Existing labels already provide options that do not have GMOs with the use of the label “certified organic.”
• Many food crops that have been used for decades have been modificed to resit disease, require fewer pesticides, and are more nutritions. These effects are not harmful, and currently the USDA and FDA have approved the genetically engineered ingredients on 70-80% of grocery products. Many feel that labeling now makes no sense.
• There is currently no evidence that GMOs are harmful.
• The American Medical Association has stated concerning GMOs “There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bio engineered foods.”
• If lawmakers wish to label all GMOs, this bill falls short in the respect that animals genetically engineered need to be labeled, but animals that ate food containing GMOs to not.
• Under this initiative farmers can be sued for wording on labels. Many are concerned that these labeling issues will be interpreted as a warning against GE products, even though GE products have been consumed for decades.
I-522 At Seattle U
The on-campus company Bon Appétit has not been blind to the bill, and gives a solid yes to Initiative 522.
“We have taken an official stand in support of 522,” said Regional District Manager for Bon Appétit, Buzz Hofford. “As a company we believe that people have the right to know what’s in their food, and all it is, is a labeling law.”
This support of the initiative is on the part of Bon Appétit as a company and does not reflect the opinions of Seattle U, he said.
Hofford personally believes that there are few laws that are perfect, and this law in particular has been drafted with a lot of careful input. It may not be perfect, he says, but it is a step in the right direction.
“Our issue is more of a philosophical one,” said Hofford. “We are very much in support of improving the food system, and there are a lot of issues within the food system. GMOs are just one.”
Bon Appetit is already operating as a scratch kitchen. Everything cooked is prepared from scratch without these processed foods. Initiative 522 specifies labeling on packaged foods for retail, but for Bon Appétit this is not a problem either.
“The items that we package on campus, like the grab-and-go items, because they are a lower volume and doesn’t fall under the same guidelines of wholesale the initiative doesn’t impact on our operations,” said Hofford.