Below is an interview I did with Elizabeth Larter from the "Yes on 522" campaign.*
If you recall from earlier discussions here, I-522 is a proposed law that, if approved by voters, will require Washington food stores to label certain products that contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs.)
This thread is dedicated to Waterworld, who inspired me to follow up with the I-522 folks and try to answer at least some of her questions about the initiative.
DBP: Briefly, what is I-522 and why do you think it’s important to the people of Washington State?
I-522: A “yes” vote on Initiative 522 (I-522) would give Washington consumers more information about what’s in their food. Under this initiative, genetically engineered foods, like corn or soy, or foods with genetically engineered ingredients like chips, cold cereals, soft drinks, and candy would be required to be labeled as such.
I-522 is important because Washington consumers should have the right to know what’s in the food they and their families eat. Our food is already labeled with abundant nutritional information including calories, fat, sodium and vitamins. Many foods, from fruits and vegetables to fish, have Country of Origin labels. And, lastly, American companies selling food products are already required to label genetically engineered food in 64 other countries, including the EU and its member states, Japan and China.
For more info about Yes on 522, check out our new website, http://www.yeson522.com.
DBP: What are some of the questions people have been asking you about it?
I-522: One of the misconceptions that our opposition has claimed is that labeling genetically engineered food would drive up food costs. And yet, even former European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection David Byrne noted that labeling GMO food “did not result in increased costs, despite the horrifying (double-digit) predictions of some interests.”
DBP: I’ve heard that there are several exemptions in the initiative language. For example, alcohol will be exempt, and meat, dairy, and eggs produced using GMO feeds will not have to be labeled. To some people it looks like you’ve made sweetheart deals on this . . . Will that hurt the initiative’s chances?
I-522: I-522 was modeled after global genetically engineered labeling standards and the authors worked to make sure Washington’s labeling laws would not be stricter than global standards once I-522 passes. If Washington had required stricter labeling standards than other countries that require GMO labeling, it could have an adverse economic impact for our farmers and food producers.
DBP: A similar initiative was proposed in California and failed (Prop 37). Why was that? What lessons have the I-522 folks learned from the California experience?
I-522: Let’s not forget that despite agri-business spending well over $45 million, they barely defeated the measure. Prop 37 heightened awareness of this issue and advanced the national dialogue about food labeling. For example, since the California measure failed in November 2012, Whole Foods announced this spring that they would require all of their products to have GMO labels by 2018 and many grocery stores have come out opposed to genetically engineered fish (GE Fish).
“Yes on 522” is doing things a little differently. With the excitement and momentum from JustLabelItWa turning in over 300,000 signatures to get I-522 on the ballot, we have a head start on public interest and engagement. Our community, partner groups, businesses, Republicans and Democrats, moms and dads, fishing families and farmers are coming together early and working together on I-522 to ensure the Washington consumers have the right to know what’s in the food they and their families eat.
DBP: What do you see as some of the challenges to getting I-522 passed? In other words, what do you anticipate the opposition is going to say?
I-522: The opposition is likely to pour tens of millions into our state just like they did in California. They spent over $45 million to defeat Prop 37. And, just like in California, we expect them to throw around the same, untrue, propaganda about the purpose and impact of this initiative.
Despite what our opponents might say, labeling is just common sense. Washington consumers have the right to know what’s in their food.
DBP: I’m speaking as a consumer now. Let’s say that I just don’t care whether there are GMOs in the food supply one way or other. Why should I vote for this thing?
I-522: “Yes on 522” is about your ability and right to know what’s in the food you and your family eat. Just like you have the right to know the nutritional content of your breakfast cereal or favorite candy bar, I-522 allows Washington consumers to know whether the food product has been genetically engineered or not. And as Whole Foods global grocery coordinator, Errol Schweizer stated, "We're [Whole Foods] just saying the customer has the right to make an informed choice on what they are feeding themselves and their family."
For more about “Yes on 522,” please visit our website: http://www.yeson522.com; follow us on Twitter @yeson522; and like us on Facebook: Yes on 522
*At no time did I represent myself to Ms. Larter as being an employee of WSB or anything other than a private individual who likes to share info with others over the Internet. At no time have I ever done anything other than that with anyone I've talked to in connection with this Blog.