I-522 ~ Written Interview by DBP

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    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.



    If I can locate an anti-I-522 group, I’ll send them to this thread in order to encourage a more informed debate on the subject.

    I have already told Ms. Larter I would do this. Thanks for reading.



    Thanks, DBP. Hope you find and anti person. I, for one, want to know what they would say.



    It shouldn’t be hard to find an anti, Jan. I’ll just:





    well, true



    Thanks DBP. If it makes you feel any better I think you add a lot to this forum.

    If you manage to get hold of the anti-522 spokespeople I’d love to hear the rationale behind it driving up food costs, and how they would answer the pro-522’s contention that it didn’t in Europe.



    I have contacted the PR folks at a national farm-lobbying group that opposed Prop 37 and is also opposed to I-522. We’ll see what they come back with.

    Meantime, here’s more “pro”: http://tinyurl.com/ckc9h45



    Hello. I’m strongly against I-522. I’d be happy to discuss the reasons why. I do not represent anybody in particular, but just decided to read up on I-522 when a friend of mine who lives in Walla Walla started recruiting me to the Yes on 522 campaign.

    In my profession (Environmental Health and Safety), I often have to read legal documents, so I immediately read the text of I-522. I was just as immediately appalled by how poorly written it was, and that it would clearly not achieve it’s stated goals.

    I am neither in favor, nor against GMO labeling in principle. My objection to I-522 is entirely because I feel it will not do what many believe it will, and puts the burden of compliance on the wrong people.

    I’m happy to elaborate on specific topics if anyone wants to debate the issues.



    where does 522 put the burden of compliance

    and why is that the wrong place?



    The burden of compliance would be on the retailer. In the case of produce and bulk items, that’s not a real problem. But the vast majority of the food that would be subject to the label law would be packaged foods.

    If packaged foods have no label, the retailer would either need to verify an affidavit stating the food is GM free is available, or not offer the food for retail sale. Foods labeled as “USDA organic” or have a GMO-free verification such as the “Non GMO project” certification would not need additional supporting documentation.

    Where this would be of particular concern is in the case of a retail store like the Husky Deli. They specialize in imported foods, and the likelihood of those foods being properly labeled is small, since the countries of origin would not be compelled to comply with Washington’s law. They are also unlikely to have received the “USDA Organic” certification.

    So for imported foods, the retailer would have only two choices: attempt to obtain sworn statements from foreign food manufacturers and keep them on file, or discontinue offering the food for sale.

    The labeling laws of the country of origin or their position on GM foods is irrelevant. Washington’s proposed law does not have any provision for food labeled by foreign standards. It MUST have the Washington statement on the front of the package, or fall under one of the listed exemptions. Imported food is not provided a compliance loophole.

    Supporters of I-522 will tell you they are going after big companies like Kraft, Kellogg and Monsanto. The law actually lets them off nearly unscathed. There is absolutely no mention of requiring manufacturers to add labels at the point of production, packaging, wholesale or distribution. It ONLY mentions having labels when the food is “offered for retail sale”. Monsanto does not sell retail food. They are completely let off the hook.

    Retailers could be subject to a fine if they do not comply, however the legal issues regarding enforcement and who’s responsible would most certainly force these issues into the court room.



    I’d like to address maplesyrup’s inquiry about how the cost might be higher under I-522 compared to the EU’s label laws.

    In Europe, there is a law that stipulates all food products must list GMO ingredients on the food information label. The exact text of the law is as follows:

    ” where the food consists of more than one ingredient, the words ‘genetically modified’ or ‘produced from genetically modified (name of the ingredient)’ shall appear in the list of ingredients provided for in Article 6 of Directive 2000/13/EC in parentheses immediately following the ingredient concerned.”

    The information is placed on the mandated ingredients list. The same rule applies to all countries in the European Union.

    Under I-522, the GMO label MUST be on the FRONT of the packaging, not on the food information label. This would only be a Washington State requirement. A state like Vermont, that just passed a GMO rule, would allow the message on the back of the package. Food manufacturers would need to set up separate packaging lines to accommodate various state requirements. And since our message is required to be on the front of the package, and not the nutrition label, the Washington packages may have to be redesigned to adequately accommodate the message.

    Additionally, since food manufacturers do not necessarily know which food products would end up in which state, distributors would have to segregate inventories to be sure the Washington labeled food really gets to Washington, and the Vermont food gets to Vermont, etc. This will add cost, as the current food distribution in the US is not this granular.

    Retailers would also be forced to add cost, since they now have to verify each item they stock for it’s compliance status. In Europe, the retailer has no significant role in GMO compliance.

    None of these costs are all that high on their own, but when added up, there will be a noticeable cost increase for the consumer.

    The European method of labeling is FAR superior to the method I-522 proposes. In the US, the FDA nutrition label is designed to be easily modifiable, and since it is regulated nationally, everything printed there is legal anywhere in the US. I-522 does not use the nutrition label. It calls for a special label on the front. Silly, if you ask me, but I’m not making this up. That’s what it says…



    I, for one, am terribly glad that DBP has started this discussion!



    Thanks for the answer, VBD. If you will indulge me a couple of follow-up questions.

    – Why does product destined for WA and VT necessarily have to have its own inventory? Can’t the food with the same label also be sold in Oregon, New Hampshire, and elsewhere?

    – I know a little about packaging and basically a revised message on the front of the package most often requires a design change to accommodate the new text. It doesn’t cost anything really- unless 522 includes certain specs for the size and appearance of the labeling, requiring larger labels or other more significant changes. Does 522 contain specs for label sizes and whatnot? And, could you give me an example of a food package that would need to be redesigned in order to include the new information?

    BTW I think your example of the imported specialty product labels is interesting and one that probably never occurred to the 522 authors. It will have the unintended consequence of limiting consumer choices because retailers will have to think carefully about what products are worth the effort. However, what happens in Europe in these cases? Don’t Spanish olives undergo similar scrutiny, for example?



    The reason for segregated inventories is that the stores without GMO label laws will demand that they DO NOT get Washington branded food. And products that comply with the VT law may not be legal in WA.

    The reality is that the GMO label will be viewed as a marketing disadvantage. There is a lot of negativity in the “Label It” campaign, and the anti-GMO propaganda often includes pictures of cancer laden rats, citations of irresponsible use of herbicides, and stories of illness from ingestion of GM foods. So retailers that are not required to have the labels on their products would ask for unlabeled food. Having 2 or more sets of packaging customized to each state’s requirements WILL cost more.

    There is no defined size for the label. The initiative requires the message must be “stated clearly and conspicuously”. I’m not sure if you can achieve that on a small item like a candy bar. Certainly some packages would be simple; others would likely need some re-designing. I’m no expert here.

    In Europe there is no special label for each country. All countries have the same requirements. So Spanish Olives sold in France would be properly labeled. There are obviously language differences, and packaging must reflect that, but that problem existed long before GMOs.

    However, when the Olives are exported to the US, they would be required to have the FDA nutrition label. The FDA label does not require the listing of GM ingredients. So when food is imported, the EU rules don’t apply. Therefore, you will not get any GMO information on the product.

    In the US we have one nutrition label, so putting the GMO information there would be the best way to go, and would completely eliminate the problem of state’s multiple package versions, as well as the imported food issue.



    “The reason for segregated inventories is that the stores without GMO label laws will demand that they DO NOT get Washington branded food. And products that comply with the VT law may not be legal in WA.

    The reality is that the GMO label will be viewed as a marketing disadvantage. There is a lot of negativity in the “Label It” campaign, and the anti-GMO propaganda often includes pictures of cancer laden rats, citations of irresponsible use of herbicides, and stories of illness from ingestion of GM foods. So retailers that are not required to have the labels on their products would ask for unlabeled food. Having 2 or more sets of packaging customized to each state’s requirements WILL cost more.”

    I understand that dual inventories will cost more (though not THAT much more- I also know a little about distribution). And in the end any additional costs would be passed along to the consumers. Now if the people in the state vote in favor of 522 knowing that, then there’s no problem really. You’re right though to point it out- people should be aware of that.

    It’s funny, being in the Seattle bubble, I never considered having the labels to be a negative from a consumer standpoint but you’re right, it will hurt sales of products that are labeled to have GMO ingredients. Again…not sure that’s a bad thing but I can see how some retailers may see it that way.

    Regarding the Spanish olive example, I guess I wasn’t clear enough in the question. If the EU has GMO labeling requirements, Spanish olives sold in Spain or France or wherever, the packaging need to comply with the regulations, right? Meaning, they’re labeled accordingly on the back. Wouldn’t that be sufficient evidence for retailers to place a label on the front saying “GMO” or also to NOT place it there? Is the affidavit really necessary according to the bill as it’s written?

    PS: forgive my laziness for not reading through the legislation (yet). :)



    Again, the Olives would NOT have any evidence of labeling once imported to the US. There would be no way to know the GM status of the food. The label used in Europe would NOT be on the packaging, as the FDA label is the one required for import to the US. Check your shelves; you’ll see all your imported packaged food does not (usually) have the foreign nutrition label.

    However, even if the food DID have the ingredients listed as having GMOs, it would still be illegal to sell under I-522. The GMO label MUST be on the front of the package in specific language to comply with I-522.

    I-522 REQUIRES an affidavit (or a specific US-based certification). Simply “knowing” something is from an area that has GM laws is not good enough. Here’s the part in I-522 that makes the affidavit a requirement:

    “To be included within the exclusion under this subsection, the person supplying a raw agricultural commodity or food must provide a sworn statement that the raw agricultural commodity or food: (i) Has not been knowingly or intentionally produced through genetic engineering; and (ii) has been segregated from, and has not been knowingly or intentionally commingled with, foods that may have been genetically engineered at any time.”



    I must add that no discussion about the increased cost of food due to I-522 would be complete without identifying the costs to be imposed on retailers. The act of verifying compliance of food labels, and assuring proper paperwork is available, would hurt many stores. Most grocery stores do not currently have the means to deal with the collection and cross referencing of affidavits, and the purging of items that are not compliant. There are some retailers, however, who do employ methods to verify the GMO content of foods. PCC is the primary sponsor of I-522, and is already working within the model that is proposed in the initiative.

    Trudy Bialic, Public Affairs Director at PCC Natural Markets states, “PCC Natural Markets has used the affidavit system that I-522 would put in place for years. It has not caused any undue burden or cost.”

    Now I find that statement a little misleading. PCC is a very expensive place to shop. If pressed as to why they have higher prices than a conventional grocer, they would proudly state it’s because of the extra effort they put into assuring the sources of the food they sell. Trudy is trying to have it both ways. Other stores that put a premium on traceability of their food sources are also expensive. Whole Foods is often referred to as “Whole Paycheck” for a good reason!

    So, although PCC may not be negatively affected by the implementation of I-522, a store like Thriftway certainly would. Thriftway would have to add quite a few steps to the inventory and stocking procedure to assure compliance with I-522. The costs would absolutely be passed onto their customers.

    PCC is looking for a competitive advantage by forcing their foes to begin doing what they have already mastered. It’s ironic that DBP suggests one follows the money to find I-522 opponents. A money trail will lead to its supporters just as reliably.

    I would suggest that even if you believe the increase in food cost would be small, it’s pretty hard to argue there would be NO increase in cost for most consumers. That, then, begs the question;

    “What are we getting for our money?”

    To me, this is where the discussion begins to get interesting…



    You can’t pin all of the additional cost of PCC’s food on the affidavit system though. The source, production methods, volumes produced, labor costs, and who knows what else make a huge difference too. You can’t tell me a store like Safeway doesn’t have the legal resources and experience to duplicate what PCC does either.

    And if the people understand this and are willing to pay more for this information, what’s the problem?

    Anyway I get that you have issues with the way this is written and I think you may have some points. Thanks for the explanations. Now I have more info. upon which to make a decision.



    I’m not saying ALL the cost. But SOME of the cost undoubtedly is because of the amount of book keeping required to fulfill the traceability objectives.

    Safeway may be better off than some due to it’s size and available resources. I tend to think smaller retailers would have a tougher time than the big chains when it comes to the cost of compliance.

    Again, I don’t know if the price of I-522 would be huge or trivial. I am certain, however, there WOULD be a cost.

    So, with I-522, what are we getting for our money? Anybody??



    What would we get for our money?

    we would get the information that would allow us to make informed choices.

    not having to source it myself for every product i purchase every time i purchase it is why i choose to shop at places like PCC…

    and btw.. why i often purchase foreign products…

    the labeling might not be the same as that sold in the EU.. but the product generally is :)

    they don’t generally go to the expense of producing product with GMO ingredients just for the American market …

    unless of course the product name is licensed to a US based manufacturer… :(

    it’s amazing how helpful the information on that label is….



    If you think I-522 will provide enough information to make informed choices, think again. If you read the text of I-522, you’ll see the law would not require anywhere near the level of detail you think it would. It would not tell you what is in the food, how much is in there or even if there is a reasonable level of certainty.

    The mandated label, “may be partially produced with genetic engineering” is so utterly ambiguous, that it provides absolutely no assurance to the consumer, and does not present a reasonable basis for choice. This is the phrase that would appear on the vast majority of the packaged products in the typical grocery store.

    GM corn would be absolutely indistinguishable from GM beets, GM wheat, or anything else. You would not be able to tell if there are GMOs actually in the food, or simply that the supplier did not supply an affidavit.

    Imagine a box of frozen “Blackened Salmon Penne, with Marinara”. If it had the “May contain..” label, you would have no idea if the salmon, wheat, sweeteners, or tomatoes are GMO. Or even if none of it is.

    Wouldn’t listing the ACTUAL ingredients on the label be MUCH better? If not, why not??




    Who do you work for? Are you in any way shape or form a paid representative or spokesperson for agribusiness?



    What about the “Organic” label? It could also be perceived as a disadvantage to other non-organic labeled foods. Yet, the market seems to be OK with both labels.

    Why shouldn’t we have the right to know what we are eating? Should a diabetic person not have the right to know if a product contains vast amounts of sugar? Should someone with extremely high blood pressure not have the right to know if a product contains excessive salt? Should someone with a peanut allergy that could kill them not have the right to know that a product contains peanuts?

    Eating is one of the most basic functions of all living things and it doesn’t seem that much of a stretch to insist that we know what we eat. IMHO, when companies start demanding the right to hide what happens in our food chain, there’s something terribly wrong. Are you really telling me that we don’t have the right to know what we are ingesting… what we’re feeding our children? That a company’s cost and advantage in the marketplace trumps our right to be informed citizens about what we eat?

    The bill might not be specific enough, but it would be enough for consumers to put the product down if they were concerned about GMO enough to read labels.



    And by the way… I shop all the major markets in W Seattle and don’t find PCC to be any more expensive than QFC or Met Market. Some products might be more expensive when QFC or Met are having mega sales, but all in all my food bill is pretty much the same from all those stores.

    If you honestly think PCC is looking for a competitive advantage by sponsoring this bill, it tells me that more people will purchase a non-GMO product, thus the competitive advantage. SOOOO… more people want non-GMO products than those who don’t? This is a democracy, right? Who should get the advantage? Those who support the majority thinking or those who want government to maintain the status quo for specific companies who want competitive advantage against the will of the people?



    Oh, and I also shop at Trader Joe’s which insists on non-GMO products for their Trader Joe’s label and they are very inexpensive.


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