Fight over GMOs moves north

01/18/2013 09:07:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

Vicky Boyd, Staff WriterVicky Boyd, Staff WriterDespite a defeat by California voters in November, proponents of labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms — or GMOs — have not given up.

They’re taking their fight to legislators in Washington state as well as to Connecticut and Vermont this year and possibly to Oregon in 2014.

If you can believe website postings, GMO labeling proponents also plan to petition the Food and Drug Administration for similar requirements.

Proposition 37, dubbed the California Right to Know measure, would have required most genetically modified crops and foods that contained GMOs to be labeled as such.

It was the brainchild of Pamm Larry, a grandmother, former farmer and midwife from Chico, Calif., who launched the effort in January 2011.

Proponents said labeling would provide more information to shoppers, who could then decide whether to purchase the products.

Opponents countered that GMOs were deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture, and no further labeling was needed.

Money poured into the fight, with opponents spending more than $46 million compared to proponents’ $9 million. The measure was defeated 53% to 47%.

But supporters said they were heartened by the more than 4 million people who voted for labeling, and they’ve moved the battle up the road to Washington.

In California, supporters went directly to the electorate and qualified the measure for the November 2012 general election ballot by collecting enough valid signatures.

Washington state campaign

In Washington, the University Place-based Label It Wa group is going the legislative initiative route.

Chris McManus, owner of a small Tacoma, Wash., advertising firm, is leading the charge. Among the early financial backers is Seattle-based PCC Natural Markets, a member-owned cooperative that contributed $100,000 toward signature gathering.

Supporters had to collect 241,153 valid signatures by Jan. 4 to bring the measure before the legislature.

Lawmakers can adopt, reject or modify the proposal. If they reject the measure, it will be placed on the November general election ballot — which is typically the path a Washington state initiative follows.

If lawmakers modify the measure, both the original and modified versions are put on the ballot.

Initiative supporters submitted about 350,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Elections Division on Jan. 3, according to the secretary’s office.

The office is expected to announce before month’s end whether the initiative has enough valid signatures to be certified.

According to the Initiative-522 proposal, all raw foods labeled for retail sale would have to carry the words “genetically engineered” conspicuously printed on the front package or be deemed misbranded. The rules would become effective July 1, 2015.

In the case of bulk produce, the label would have to appear on the retail shelf or bin where the items are displayed.

Processed foods that contained GMOs would have to carry front labeling stating “may be partially produced with genetic engineering,” according to the proposal.

Let the games begin.

vboyd@thepacker.com

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