Washington state will not label GMO foods

by Mary Budinger — 

The Organic Consumers Association reports that 20 percent of GMOs grown worldwide go into human food. The other 80 percent ends up in animal feed, cotton production, biofuels, body care products and nutritional supplements. Much of the vitamin C on the market for example, comes from GMO corn.

The Organic Consumers Association reports that 20 percent of GMOs grown worldwide go into human food. The other 80 percent ends up in animal feed, cotton production, biofuels, body care products and nutritional supplements. Much of the vitamin C on the market for example, comes from GMO corn.

Grass-roots efforts to label foods with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the state of Washington failed at the polls on November 5. Initiative 522 would have taken effect in 2015 and it would have mandated labels on the front of food packaging. Genetically engineered produce and meat from genetically engineered animals and fish also would have been labeled.

With 1.6 million votes cast in the state of Washington, roughly 51 percent were against labeling, while 48 percent were for labeling. In 2012, a similar effort to label GMOs in California failed by a margin of 51.4 percent to 48.6 percent.

As was the case in California, supporters of the Washington state bill were up against well-funded corporate opposition from a consortium that included General Mills, Nestle USA, PepsiCo, Monsanto, DuPont and other corporate entities. The consortium orchestrated a public relations barrage of TV and radio spots aimed at convincing voters that GMOs are safe to eat and that a typical Washington family would see their grocery costs go up hundreds of dollars per year.

Opponents spent more money to defeat I-522 than has ever been spent on any previous ballot initiative in the state’s history. Opposing companies contributed roughly $22 million; supporters of labeling raised roughly $8 million.

According to the Washington state attorney general, the largest donor to the “NO on I-522” campaign was the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), and it illegally concealed more money than any other group ever accused of violating Washington’s campaign finance laws.

Pamela G. Bailey, CEO of the GMA, said the association would continue its campaign against state-led initiatives, sending other states around the nation a strong message that when it comes to standing up to the nation’s big food industry, the battle is not worth it.

Documents released in the wake of allegations of campaign finance law violations reveal the GMA’s board of directors will “pursue a statutory federal preemption, which does not include a labeling requirement.” Translation: A federal law that frees the industry from the burden of a national label and would also preempt any state labeling requirement.

The two biggest supporters of I-522 were David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and the Center for Food Safety in Washington D.C. Supporters argued that many non-industry sponsored studies show that: GMO crops are not safe; the crops are responsible for a significant increase in pesticides; the world’s food supply is threatened by a few corporations having so much control over it; consumers should have the right to know what they are buying; and labeling would not be costly. “Win or lose, this is a long war,” Bronner said. “Labeling is inevitable.”

Washington state has already enacted legislation requiring labels on genetically modified salmon.

Rachel Linden, director of GMO Free Arizona (GMOFreeAZ.org), said, “America is waking up, state by state. The Washington state outcome is more a reflection of the power of the advertising dollar than what is right for the consumer. But the pro-labeling campaigns also need to rethink their approach. I saw this happen in California and play out again in Washington state: The official campaign to label runs with one message — your right to know.

“I think as a strategy, this is flawed. These campaigns should be run with the overwhelming scientific data that genetically engineered foods are harmful to human health and damaging to the environment. I do not think this outcome will stop this kind of initiative; in fact, I think it will serve as fuel for other statewide labeling initiatives. With each state, we grow our intelligence around this issue and learn how to fight it in a more effective manner. We gain money and supporters, and we wake up consumers to the risks associated with genetically engineered foods.”

In more than 60 countries around the world, including the European Union, Australia and Japan, GMOs are either labeled or banned.

Roughly three-fourths of the processed foods in American grocery stores are made from genetically modified sugar beets, soy, corn, canola or cottonseed oil. Products include corn chips, corn cereal, corn starch, soy milk, tofu, high-fructose corn syrup, sodas, non-dairy creamers, salad dressings, baby formulas, candy bars, waffles, seasoning packets, frozen meals, soups, sauces and snack foods. Also, GMOs are often found in individual product ingredients, including aspartame, ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, vitamin C, citric acid, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, maltodextrin, molasses, monosodium glutamate, sucrose, textured vegetable protein and xanthan gum. GMOs are in most processed foods but not in organic foods.

McDonald’s Corporation and Gerber Products Company issued statements in November that they will not use Arctic Apples, which, if approved by the USDA, would be the first genetically engineered apples on the market. This move suggests that bad press about GMOs is having an impact, despite unsuccessful efforts to label them.

The Organic Consumers Association reports that 20 percent of GMOs grown worldwide go into human food. The other 80 percent ends up in animal feed, cotton production, biofuels, body care products and nutritional supplements. Much of the vitamin C on the market for example, comes from GMO corn.

While the Federal Drug Administration deems GMOs to be safe, labeling supporters point out that genetically altered crops were allowed on the market without any human safety testing. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine urges all doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets, citing animal studies that provide possible correlations between GMO consumption and infertility, allergies, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, among other complications.

According to the Organic Trade Association, U.S. sales of organic food grew over the past five years by 35 percent — nearly three times the pace of the food industry as a whole — to $29 billion.

Source: Washington state Secretary of State.

 

Mary Budinger is an Emmy award-winning journalist who writes about integrative medicine.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 32, Number 6, December 2013/January 2014.

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