INITIATIVE 522 is a clumsy, emotion-based campaign to require labeling of selective food products containing genetically modified organisms.
The issue for proponents of I-522 seems to be less about outcomes — the products themselves — but rather finding the modern processes offensive.
Farmers and science have nurtured and bred hybrid versions of plants and animals for selective characteristics for centuries. But the efforts of the last few decades have stirred critics whose alarmist concerns are not supported by the mainstream scientific community.
Multistate efforts to require labeling of products as containing genetically modified organisms are ostensibly about a bold warning on packaging. The intent is more pointed, if a bit more subtle.
Labeling is one part of an effort to make the use of GMOs more expensive, arduous and complicated for farmers, processors, shippers, inspectors and regulators.
Confused consumers are a desirable bonus. Ominous labels must mean something is dicey, right? The reality is we have all been eating genetically altered agricultural products for a long time without demonstrable problems.
For lots of hungry people in the world the existence of such crop options has meant higher yields and plants with disease and pest resistance. Access to GMO rice that fights a vitamin-A deficiency ranks as an agrarian miracle, with its help to combat childhood infections, diseases and blindness.
Proponents of I-522 do not make their case by taking on the science. Liberal spending by Monsanto to protect its business niche is not a compelling rationale to back labeling.
Consumers have the option to go organic. The products exist, though shoppers pay more for them. That is labeling that makes a point. At the same time, GMO labeling protocols provide for a multitude of exemptions that do not serve consumers.
The American Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health looked at food containing genetically engineered ingredients. Its conclusion in 2012 said in part:
“Despite strong consumer interest in mandatory labeling of bioengineered foods, the FDA’s science-based labeling policies do not support special labeling without evidence of material differences between bioengineered foods and their traditional counterparts.” The AMA panel also sided with science.
GMO critics suffered a celebrity defection in January when best-selling British author Mark Lynas apologized to the Oxford Farming Conference saying he had been duped by GMO arguments over the years. He regretted a misspent youth tearing up GMO crops.
The instincts behind GMO labeling need to focus on arguments that convince those in the agricultural, scientific and medical communities.
In the meantime, Washington voters and consumers can serve their best interests by voting No on I-522. Make a much stronger point by buying organic or starting a garden.