WENATCHEE, Wash. — Four Central Washington tree fruit organizations are among more than 30 state agricultural groups opposing Initiative 522 that would require labeling of genetically-modified foods if passed by voters in November.
“The main concern we have is potential mislabeling issues,” said Kirk Mayer, manager of Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.
I-522 exempts inputs for meats and organics but is silent on inputs of other products like apples, Mayer said. It is unclear if growers could be liable for mislabeling if they do not identify GM chemicals and fertilizers used in growing fruit, he said.
“If this needs to be done, it should be at the national level with more scientific and regulatory clarification,” Mayer said.
The Clearing House, Washington State Horticultural Association, Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association and Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association all oppose the initiative, Mayer said.
A Canadian company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits of Summerland, B.C., is seeking USDA Food and Drug Administration approval to grow and sell its Arctic-brand apples in the United States that have been genetically modified to not brown when sliced. Development has taken more than a decade. The Washington apple industry opposes USDA approval, fearing negative public reaction.
“I-522 would force Washington farmers and food companies to implement costly new labeling, packaging, distribution and record keeping that does not exist in other states,” said Mike LaPlant, a hay grower near Ephrata and president of the Washington Farm Bureau.
All Washington farmers, whether they grow GM food or not, would be impacted and that’s why many agricultural organizations oppose I-522, LaPlant said.
“I-522 would add millions of dollars in costs for Washington farmers and food companies, increasing grocery prices and putting farmers in our state at a serious competitive disadvantage,” said Dan Newhouse, former director of the state Department of Agriculture.
The initiative threatens Washington’s agricultural economy, said Eric Maler, past president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers.
Other groups opposing I-522 include many county farm bureaus, Washington Friends of Farms & Forests, Northwest Grocery Association, Washington State Dairy Federation, Washington State Council of Farmer Cooperatives, Far West Agribusiness Association, Washington Cattlemen’s Association, Washington Asparagus Council, Northwest Food Processor Association, Washington Potato & Onion Association, and Washington State Hay Growers Association.