GMO labeling law defeated in Washington

Grocery Manufacturers argue national standards set by FDA better than 50-state patchwork of regulations on genetically engineered ingredients.

Washington state's ballot initiative to require the labeling of genetically engineered food was rejected at the polls Tuesday. With almost one million votes counted, nearly 55% of voters sided against Initiative 522. However, supporters said they vote was too close to call due to Washington States' vote-by-mail system which would prevent a final tally for a few more days.

A statement from Yes on 522 said, "The campaign remains confident that a majority of Washington voters support labeling of genetically engineered foods, and optimistic about supporters getting out to vote in this off-year election."

Supporters of the bill had claimed the initiative was needed to provide consumers information on their food. However, those opposed said I-522 would have provided consumers with inaccurate and misleading information about the foods they buy, while increasing grocery costs.

“This is a clear victory for Washington consumers, taxpayers and family farmers across our state," said Dana Bieber, spokesperson for No on 522, in a statement Tuesday evening.

Heading into election night, nearly $22 million had been raised in opposition to the cause, whereas nearly $8 million was raised by those in favor of it.  

California was the first state to attempt a similar initiative in 2012, although the vote there also failed 51.4% to 48.6%. Nearly $37 million was poured into that fight.

An estimated 20 other states look to pass similar initiatives. A statement from the Grocery Manufacturers Assn. (GMA), a major contributor to fight off I-522, said a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling laws would be "confusing and costly to consumers."

Pamela G. Bailey, president and chief executive officer at GMA, said, "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. Our country’s labeling laws have been and should continue to be based on health, safety and nutritional content."

Bailey added that GMA "will continue to oppose individual state efforts to impose mandatory labeling of products made with GMO technology, as well as advocate for the safe and effective use of this important technology to increase the food supply while lowering cost. And we will continue to engage in an informative dialogue with our consumers on the safety, prevalence and benefits of that technology."

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