Mandatory GMO Labels: Washington State Group Publishes White Paper on I-522


Earlier this month, the Washington State Academy of Science published a white paper on Initiative 522 (I-522), a Washington State initiative aimed to institute mandatory labeling of food containing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). On November 5th, the initiative will be taken to the public, and the state will vote on the proposal.

The debate continues on what would change if the initiative were successful.

Proponents for I-522 argue that mandatory labelling would improve trade negotiations, as many partner countries also require mandatory labelling. They also argue that there is a correlation between increases in pesticide use and genetically engineered crops, citing the WallStreet Journal and Forbes. They claim that this change will not cost consumers, though this argument is based solely on the change in printing labels. Their primary argument for #VoteYeson522, however, is the “right to know.”

I-522’s opponents argue that the change will cost taxpayers millions for changes along all aspects of the production line, while limiting trade, increasing red tape, and providing no real benefit to consumers. Vote #NoOn522 also argues that I-522’s labeling requirements are arbitrary and that the exemptions make no sense (meat/dairy fed GE products will not be labeled, and supermarket labelling is mandatory, but exempts restaurants and in some cases unlabelled, imported foods) .

According to the White Paper on Washington State Initiative 522, “Balancing the ‘right to know’ with the ‘right to choose’ is an important economic tradeoff,” and many question that I-522 will do that. Enforcing mandatory labelling may address a consumer’s right to know, while simultaneously creating barriers to production/sales of products, thereby limiting choice, and thus a consumer’s rights in that regard. In addition, these changes will cost all consumers, even those opposed to labelling, where voluntary labelling increases costs only those who demand it.

In terms of trade, the paper had this to say:

“The lack of uniform standards, known as harmonization, and the potential for discrimination of policies among states and across countries and their agreements makes mandatory labeling of GM products a trade issue. Mandatory labeling, especially at a state versus federal level, is likely to affect trade and impose higher costs on firms pro- ducing and selling products in Washington. These costs are likely to be passed on to the consumer resulting in higher food prices. Importantly, these costs will be borne by firms and consumers for both GM and non-GM foods as labeling foods as non-GM will require oversight costs…the estimates have a wide range, and could vary from a few hundred thousand to millions of dollars annually”

If passed, I-522’s mandatory labelling would take effect on July 1, 2015.

Would you vote yes to I-522?

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