By MATTHEW WEAVER
Though genetically modified wheat is not yet commercially available, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers on Feb. 11 came out against an initiative that would mandate labeling of food made with GMO ingredients.
Eric Maier, a Ritzville, Wash., wheat farmer and past president of WAWG, said the impact of Initiative 522 on wheat farmers would be negligible at this point, since a genetically modified wheat variety is still likely seven to 10 years away from commercial cultivation.
The association opposes the initiative in its entirety.
"It's just bad policy," Maier said.
According to the association, foods produced through genetic modification are indistinguishable from foods produced through traditional means, and requiring mandatory labeling misleads consumers by falsely implying differences where none exist.
In an association release, Maier said the initiative is full of contradictions. For example, a food made of genetically modified ingredients would require labeling when sold in grocery stores, but not in restaurants.
WAWG also accuses I-522 supporters of trying to mislead the public by claiming the initiative will avoid export market disruption. The association says the initiative has nothing to do with export markets, but is part of an effort to create an "unnecessary and expensive regulatory system that will ultimately hit Washington consumers in the pocketbook."
Maier said he would like to see a unified policy on GMOs from state to state, so every state doesn't have its own variation. Oregon and California voters have rejected similar proposals.
WAWG planned to testify on the initiative on Feb. 14. Maier hopes the bill won't make it out of committee, and will likely go to a vote of the people.
The initiative is talking about labeling, but focuses on GMOs in general, Maier said.
"We talk about labeling for maybe about 10 to 20 seconds, then we move on to GMOs in general," Maier said. "We want that research to continue to make sure we don't close the door on it."
Maier said consumers would have to accept GMO technology before wheat growers would pursue it. Farmers want to grow a safe, healthful product, he said.
"When the bill was put together, it was said it was championed by all of wheat," he said. "That definitely isn't the case. It's a few isolated growers that are behind this, and it's not the wheat industry in general."