Slapping GMO labels on some of the food Washington state residents eat, as would be required under Washington state Initiative 522, will cost money, and lots of it. Estimates diverge widely over how big a financial burden consumers and taxpayers would ultimately shoulder, but rest assured that it would be plenty.
But we believe labels aren’t the ultimate intent of anti-GMO activists. They want all genetically modified food off the shelves of supermarkets, not just in Washington state but everywhere. They cite the Precautionary Principle as license to ban anything of which they are skeptical. The principle says that anything that can’t be proven safe should be banned. By that line of reasoning, virtually everything should be banned, including electricity, cars and nearly every other modern convenience.
Yet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the USDA have found food having GMO ingredients to have the same qualities and characteristics as non-GMO food.
Opponents can’t point to any damage caused by growing GMO foods. In fact, GMO crops are bred to require less pesticides, fertilizers and water.
Still I-522 proponents insist on a label. Our opinion is the pro-I-522 group sees a bigger goal than just expensive and unneeded labels. They see labels as a step toward getting rid of genetically modified crops. Their supporters claim to “hate” biotech companies such as Monsanto. Such is not the language of compromise or coexistence. It is the language of all-out attack. They just realize that to be successful they must use an incremental strategy.
They talk about the “dangers” of GMOs, the “health risks” and even about how Monsanto pushes farmers around, none of which is true. The only argument that holds any water is the worry about a GMO crop cross-pollinating with a similar organic crop. That can be avoided by the neighboring farmers talking with each other and developing a plan to avoid the problem.
The next step for GMO opponents is a requirement to label foods with GMO ingredients. It does not faze them that at least two labels — the USDA organic label and the Non-GMO Project’s verified label — already assure consumers that those foods have no genetically modified ingredients. Any consumer can walk into any grocery store in Washington state — or any other state, for that matter — and buy food labeled organic or GMO-free.
For consumers and taxpayers who are on a budget — who isn’t? — the cost of additional labels on their food is a huge issue. Any mother or father with a limited income needs to be assured that the food they buy is fairly priced and without additional costly features such as extra GMO labels.
Proponents of I-522 say the label law wouldn’t cost a dime. That’s true — it would most likely cost way more than that. The Washington State Department of Agriculture operates the state’s organic certification program. It costs millions of dollars a year and is part of the reason organic foods cost more than conventionally grown food.
If the cost of segregating GMO and non-GMO ingredients and printing special labels for food sold in Washington state were considered, the costs would be even greater.
A key point that I-522 proponents also leave out is that only some of the food sold in Washington state would be included in the label law. About one-third of the food would carry a label and the rest would not.
There is no doubt GMO labels would cost Washington shoppers and taxpayers. How much, we don’t know. But if it’s a penny, it’s too much.