A BALLOT initiative that would require all foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled so will be put to voters in Washington state this fall.
The initiative, which will be listed as Initiative-522, had been presented to state lawmakers in the form of a petition (Feedstuffs, Oct. 15, 2012) but now will go to voters because lawmakers did not act on the petition by April 28 — the date the legislative session ended.
GMO labeling would be required on all foods, including cereal and raw foods such as corn and other vegetables, and the law does not make an exception for "natural" foods. (By federal regulation, organic foods are not permitted to contain GMOs.)
The initiative also includes a private enforcement provision that would allow citizens to sue for enforcement if state officials do not take action within 60 days on violations reported to them.
The petition was carried to the legislature by Chris and Leah McManus — who own an advertising firm in Tacoma, Wash., and say they consume only an organic, vegan diet — after legislators did not act on a GMO labeling law in the previous session.
The petition was supported by PCC Markets, a Seattle, Wash.-based cooperative that merchandises natural and organic foods and collected signatures in its nine stores in the Puget Sound.
Meanwhile, similar legislation has cleared committee in the Connecticut House of Representatives and would cover foods made from genetically modified crops.
The bill contains a provision that, if passed by the Connecticut legislature, would not become effective until two additional northeastern states pass their own GMO labeling laws.
GMO legislation is being pursued in Vermont, New Mexico and Oregon, but a ballot initiative in California last year calling for GMO labels was defeated on a 53% to 47% vote (Feedstuffs, Nov. 12, 2012).
Supporters of the Connecticut and Washington measures say they are not trying to ban GMOs but want people to have the right to know if foods contain GMOs.
Opponents cite positions taken by the Food & Drug Administration, American Medical Assn., National Academy of Sciences and World Health Organization that foods produced with GMOs are not materially different from conventionally produced foods and are safe.
They also caution that food prices would increase if GMO labels are required because of the costs that would be involved in relabeling foods for particular states that have the GMO label laws.