All Eyes on Washington State for GE Food Labeling

Written by Michele Simon

While the food movement has been gaining steam in recent years, tangible policy wins have been sparse due to powerful industry lobbying. One significant victory that appears within reach is the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The narrow loss last fall of Proposition 37 in California has inspired 26 other states to propose similar measures, including Washington, the only state with a ballot measure in Novemberís election.

These efforts are gaining some momentum. For example, legislatures in Connecticut and Maine have both passed bills that would require labeling of GE foods. (Connecticutís bill has been signed by the governor while Maineís still awaits signature). But thereís a catch. The labeling requirement in each of these bills wonít be triggered until several additional states enact similar laws. Itís a shame that advocates had to agree to such a huge compromise to get these bills passed, but that comes with the territory in the legislative process.

In contrast, Initiative 522 in Washington State is the only GE labeling measure currently in play that will let the voters decide. No legislative shenanigans can possibly water down the language of I-522. If passed, the law would require GE foods sold in Washington State to be labeled, period. This means Washington State could become the first state in the nation to implement labeling of GE foods. (Putting aside the likely scenario where industry sues to delay enforcement).

Making a win there more likely is Washington Stateís long history of policy ďfirsts,Ē particularly by popular vote. For example, in 1970 Washington was the first (and only) state to legalize abortion by a popular vote. In 2007, Washington became the first state to ban texting while driving. More relevant to the GE food issue, in 1993, the Washington State Legislature unanimously passed the nationís first law requiring labels on salmon to say where the fish came from and if it was farm-raised or wild.

The importance of winning in Washington State for the national GE labeling movement cannot be overstated. While some may prefer a national solution to labeling GE foods versus going state by state, history has shown that Washington, D.C. is gridlocked and we wonít get movement at the federal level until the states take action on this issue. For example, the federal government recently set nutrition standards on certain school foods, but only after numerous states and local school boards enacted such policies, putting pressure on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to take action.

Moreover, the food movement needs a win in Washington to show its political muscle. President Obama has said he wants to see evidence of the food movement, and this is our chance to show it to him, the rest of the nation and the world. (We should be embarrassed that 64 other nations require GE food labeling and that we are one of few developed nations that does not do so).

While market-based solutions such as voluntary announcements by Whole Foods and others to require their suppliers to label GE ingredients in their products are a good step, they are insufficient. Most people donít shop at Whole Foods or other specialty stores. We need a solution for all shoppers, and especially not just those who can afford to buy organic or happen to live in places where organic food is widely available.

In contrast to the oppositionís rhetoric, labeling GE foods is really not that different than other sorts of food labeling that we currently take for granted. For example, the ďNutrition FactsĒ panel on food packaging wasnít always there; it started in the early 1990s, thanks to advocacy efforts. The same is true for allergen labeling, which can be a matter of life and death. We label everything from food dyes to serving sizes and itís no big deal.

And yet the food industry is making it a big deal. Theyíre already lining up the usual suspects and spouting familiar talking points to oppose I-522 in Washington State.

At least three of the campaign consulting firms that worked on Californiaís Prop 37 are on the payroll for No on 522, most significantly, the lead firm of Winner & Mandabach. While based in Los Angeles, this political powerhouse has fought several initiative battles before in Washington, including for privatizing liquor sales and repealing soda taxes.

In addition, all of the money donated to the No on I-522 campaign (about a million dollars so far) is coming from five state corporations. And the No campaign doesnít even have a place for individuals to donate on its website, which could explain why itís funded only with corporate money. In addition to the junk food makerís trade group, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the oppositionís funders are Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer and Dow Chemical.

Last year, proponents of GE labeling were outspent by the No campaign 5-1 in California. Opponents will outspend the Yes side again, which is why now is the time to support the Yes on 522 campaign. Donít wait until later in the fall, thinking there is still time. The campaign needs resources now to take on the big pesticide and chemical companies, who are already playing from the same playbook, and may stoop to even new lows this time.

But we can stop them by supporting Yes on 522 here. The effort to label GE foods may not have as good a shot at winning again for quite a while. The time is now. Support I-522 by signing this petition to urge Congress to label GE foods.

This post was originally published in Eat Drink Politics.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven7 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa3 years ago

Thank you

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne R3 years ago

Labeling should be a federal law and enforced by FDA.

Hugh W.
.3 years ago

They all need to be labeled. They just don't want to label them, because they know we don't want them.

Our politicians and their puppet masters, always trying to push through things that benefit them at the country's detriment.

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage s3 years ago

Do as with sigarettes in Norway. Label it with BIG LETTERS! GM should cover 1/4 of the product

Bill and Katie D.
Katie and Bill D3 years ago

We need to know about our food, some people have allergies and have reactions!!
We need to know what is healthy for us, not full of pesticides!!
Thank You

Philipa Longley
Philipa Longley3 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Amandine S.
Past Member 3 years ago

Already signed earlier. Thanks for the article.

Jade N.
Jade N3 years ago


Karen G3 years ago

Thank you for sharing