If the controversial Initiative 522 passes next month, it will require most food offered for retail in Washington to be labeled if it has, or may have been, produced with genetic engineering.
Local farmers are encouraging no votes because they claim the cost of enacting the law would be detrimental to their business and would raise the cost of food for families. Those on the yes side say it’s important people know what’s in the food they eat.
In Sumner, Kim Ode, the owner of Jubilee Naturals, a natural food store, said opponents are “not addressing the effects of GMOs on the public’s health or environmental impact.”
“They are only addressing lost corporate profits,” Ode said. “Their argument is all money. The huge profits the no campaign is putting forth to defeat the passage of this initiative would be more than enough to cover relabeling. Their campaign is about minimizing exposure and protecting corporate profits for what they have done.”
Tom Davis, governmental affairs director for the Washington State Farm Bureau, said the bureau’s concern is the impact the initiative would have on agriculture in this state.
“The profit margin in the ag industry is narrow,” Davis said. “We don’t have a high profit margin on commodities that we produce. This initiative would create new requirements and increase costs for the farmer.”
Davis said family-owned farms would be exposed to potential third-party lawsuits, should voters approve I-522 on Nov. 5.
“The third-party lawsuits concerns farmers because they can be sued by anyone who is not party to the damage but who is just opposed to any GMO,” Davis said. “The grocery store can be sued, the food processor, and back to the farmer.”
Davis said a farmer could be sued for a product that was produced as non-GMO but may have been unknowingly cross-contaminated with a GMO product.
“In order to protect yourself from any third-party lawsuits, (a farmer) would have to have a legal affidavit that proved they grew a non-GMO product,” Davis said. “They would need an attorney signature that they have a non-GMO product. That is an additional cost (to the farmer).”
Davis said there already is a food-labeling system in the state — the certified organic program.
“A person can buy a product and know, 100 percent, that it is non-GMO,” he said.
Ode said organic farmers are pro-I-522. She said it’s the commercial agriculture and chemical partners with the GMO seed producers who want voters to say no.
Ode has owned Jubilee Naturals in downtown Sumner for three years. She is a certified holistic health practitioner and herbalist, and she’s been in the health and nutrition industry for 25 years.
“Honestly, if the quality, integrity and nutrition were returned to the food supply in the United States and GMOs were clearly labeled, I would probably be out of business, because people wouldn’t be so sickly,” Ode said. “I would vote yes for something that could put me out of business because I value the health of the human body, the health of the environment, the mental health of the community and the health of the planet more.”Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.