Members of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers say they are “strongly opposed” to Initiative 522, which would require some food with genetically modified ingredients to be labeled.
I-522 is on the November statewide ballot in Washington state.
Eric Maier, past president of the association and a Ritzville farmer, believes the initiative will be a close race.
“I think we will prevail, but we need to get out and tell our story as to why we’re not in favor of it,” he said. “I think we need to talk to the customer-consumer base, and (tell them) the issues we have with it.”
Maier believes the initiative is an attack on GMO technology. The association hopes to see GMO research continue and supports the pursuit of new technologies to solve environmental and production challenges.
“We certainly want it to evolve and see what could happen with that,” Maier said. “There’s a lot of positive for the consumer, the environment and the grower as well, but that has to continue evolving.”
No genetically modified wheat is commercially grown in the U.S. The association and others in the industry believe the introduction of GMO wheat is at least 10 years away.
WAWG will work with other agriculture groups opposing the initiative to educate voters about the initiative, which Maier called “bad policy.”
“We’re not opposed to voluntary labeling at all; we welcome that if the processor wants to do that, but this is just so flawed,” he said.
According to the association, I-522 would force all Washington farmers and food companies to implement “costly” new labeling, packaging, distribution and record keeping requirements that do not exist in any other state.
Nicole Berg, a Paterson farmer who is vice president of the association, said in a press release that claims that the passage of I-522 will aid export markets are misleading.
“This initiative has nothing to do with export markets,” she stated. “It is about creating an unnecessary and expensive regulatory system that will ultimately hit Washington consumers in the pocketbook.”
The new requirements would add costs for Washington farmers and food companies and make Washington products more costly than in other states, according to the association.
Existing Food and Drug Administration and USDA regulations already provide consumers with information and the ability to choose not to purchase foods that have been genetically modified, according to WAWG.
WAWG president Ryan Kregger, a farmer in Touchet, called the initiative “misleading.” Requiring mandatory labeling of GMO crops falsely implies that there is a difference between them and crops produced through traditional methods, when the foods are indistinguishable, he said.
“I-522 is so poorly written that it would provide consumers with inaccurate information about which foods may or may not contain genetically engineered ingredients,” Kregger stated. “I-522 is so full of contradictory rules and exemptions that consumers would not get reliable information they can count on.”