Washington State Initiative Would Have Required Labels for Genetically Engineered Foods
WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 – Defeat of a ballot initiative that would have required labeling of food with genetically engineered ingredients in Washington state can be considered a mini-tax revolt of sorts, according to an expert with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Initiative 522’s mandate would have raised food prices by hundreds of dollars per consumer each year.
“The mandate would have imposed a ‘tax’ on a perfectly safe technology that some activists object to on purely philosophical grounds,” said Gregory Conko, CEI’s executive director and an expert on biotechnology regulation. “The world’s most respected scientific bodies, including the National Academies of Science, the American Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the science academies of dozens of other countries have concluded bio-engineered foods are at least as safe as – and often safer than – foods produced with more conventional methods.”
Conko said voters rejected paying more for food to satisfy this unnecessary requirement and that, ironically, the higher costs of enforcing the measure would have fallen most heavily on food producers who want to avoid genetically engineered ingredients. “A company that knowingly used engineered ingredients would simply have to change its labels,” Conko said. “But a company that wants to remain ‘GE-free’ must independently test or otherwise verify that the ingredients are not genetically engineered to avoid expensive litigation.”
Moreover, Conko said, the measure sought to stigmatize perfectly safe and nutritious products by making consumers believe these products were so unsafe government had to require a warning. The most aggressive I-522 supporters even admitted labeling was but a first step toward driving these products out of the market.
“Labeling advocates say consumers have a right to know what’s in their food,” Conko said. “But genetic engineering is not a thing that is in their food. It is merely a technique used to breed better crops. And the Food and Drug Administration already requires bio-engineered foods to be labeled if their safety or nutritional value is changed in any meaningful way, such as lower levels of vitamins or minerals or newly introduced allergens.
“Besides, voluntarily labeled Non-GE foods are becoming ubiquitous, so consumers already have sufficient information to choose or avoid bio-engineered foods.”
Initiative 522 went down by a 55 percent-45 percent margin, although thousands of mail-in ballots are still being counted. Majorities opposed I-522 in all but four counties – King County, which includes Seattle, and three others on the state’s eastern end. Washingtonians in the rest of the state, where actual farming takes place, voted overwhelmingly against the measure.
Why? “Because they realized it would do nothing but raise costs and needlessly frighten consumers,” Conko said.
CEI (cei.org) is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.