Gap narrows in GMO label vote

Capital Press

The gap between votes for and against GMO food labeling has narrowed in the days after the election. Supporters of Washington state Initiative 522 say the battle is not over.

OLYMPIA — The margin of defeat for Initiative 522 shrank as the vote count continued this week, but supporters say that even if the ballot measure requiring labels on some genetically modified foods still fails, they will take the issue back the Washington Legislature.

As of Nov. 13  the tally stood at 51.75 percent of votes against the measure and 48.25 percent in favor — a difference of fewer than 60,000 votes. Some 88,000 ballots were on hand waiting to be counted, election officials said. Mailed-in ballots will continue to be accepted until the election is certified on Nov. 26. Last week the count showed a 55-45 margin against the initiative.

Voters in Clallam, Thurston, Snohomish, King, Jefferson, San Juan and Whatcom counties favored the labels.

“We are giving very serious consideration to reintroducing the initiative. This is not over by any means,” state Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, sponsor of two GMO labeling bills considered by the 2013 Legislature, said.

Initiative 522 was framed around consumers’ right to know what’s in their food, she said, and arguments in the next initiative will move to what genetic modification is.

“However they voted, people are aware there are issues,” she said.

Chase said she expects there would be better results with a larger election voter turnout, which would be assured in 2016, when the presidential race will be on the ballot.

With activists in other states planning new labeling initiatives, she said, “Monsanto is going to have to chase us all over the country. We’ll see how long they can sustain this kind of expenditure.”

Monsanto and other opponents of the labeling initiative contributed more than $21 million to the campaign against the measure, including in-kind contributions. I-522 supporters contributed more than $8 million.

National GMO label proponents say they are ready to carry the labeling issue to other states and to Congress. 

Food Democracy Now, which says it represents 650,000 farmers and citizens dedicated to building a sustainable food system, said, “Labeling of genetically engineered foods is an idea whose time has come here in America, and no amount of corporate donations is going to stop it.”

David Bronner, who contributed $2.2 million to the Yes on I-522 Committee through his organic soap company, said, “We’ll keep bringing the fight until they give in. The commitment of our movement ... is huge and growing.”

The Grocery Manufacturers Association was one of the biggest contributors to the campaign against I-522, collecting more than $11 million from about three dozen businesses.

“Because a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling laws would be confusing and costly to consumers, GMA will advocate for a federal solution that will protect consumers by ensuring that the FDA, America’s leading food safety authority, sets national standards for the safety and labeling of products made with GMO ingredients,” Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the association, said. “We will continue to oppose individual state efforts to impose mandatory labeling.”

“We absolutely support the consumer’s right to know,” Robb Fraley, chief technology officer at Monsanto, said. “But we can’t support misleading labels that infer there is something unsafe about biotech products.”


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