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I-522 vote: Initial returns suggest voters in Washington State say NO to GMO labeling; but too close to call yet

3 commentsBy Elaine WATSON, Hank Schultz, Maggie Hennessy , 06-Nov-2013
Last updated on 07-Nov-2013 at 01:46 GMT2013-11-07T01:46:52Z

Initial returns suggest I-522 won't pass, but GMO labeling campaigners say they might have lost the battle, but will win the war
Initial returns suggest I-522 won't pass, but GMO labeling campaigners say they might have lost the battle, but will win the war

Initial returns indicate that voters in Washington State have given the thumbs down to GMO labeling proposal I-522, in similar proportions to the vote on California's GMO labeling proposal Prop 37. 

A clearer picture isn’t likely to emerge until the end of the week, so it’s too early for the NO campaign to crack open the champagne just yet, but figures on the official website of the Office of the Secretary of State (click here ) published at 9.59pm PST last night indicated that the NO's were at 54.83% and the YES's at 44.17%, with 986,806 votes counted (an estimated 60% of the vote).

The initiative got the strongest support in King County (56% in favor), Whatcom County (53% YES), San Juan County (62% YES) and Jefferson County (58% YES); and the weakest support in Adams County, Garfield County and Columbia County (where around 80% voted NO). 

However, Washington is a mail-in ballot state, and will count any ballots postmarked by November 5, even if they arrive at the end of the week.

NO campaign: Food labels should convey valuable and accurate information to consumers

While supporters of GMO labeling say the ‘NO’ votes in Washington and California have been effectively ‘bought’ by big food and biotech firms with pockets three times deeper than their opponents and have vowed to continue the fight, opponents say voters understood that I-522 was flawed.

In a press release issued at 11.09pm PST last night, the NO campaign said voters had “soundly rejected” the “ badly written and costly”  proposal devised by "anti-GMO activists as part of a self-proclaimed national agenda to ban foods derived from genetically engineered crops".

The YES campaign, meanwhile, said it was too close to call and said it would update stakeholders today at 6pm PST tonight. 

I-522 was a badly written initiative that deserved to be rejected

Dana Bieber, spokesperson for the NO campaign said: “With Washington voters, it always comes down to the facts.  And the facts showed that I-522 was a badly written initiative that deserved to be rejected."

Meanwhile, Jim Greenwood, President and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), said: “Food labels should convey valuable and accurate information to consumers.  Mandatory initiatives to label all foods containing genetically modified ingredients would only serve to confuse consumers and raise food prices without any additional benefits." 

But he added: “We will continue to explore solutions that provide consumers with valuable information about the foods we eat.  One example is the GMO Answers website, where consumers’ questions about GMOs and how our food is grown are asked and answered in a timely manner."

A Monsanto spokesperson told us: "The coalition urged a NO vote on I-522 because its complicated and unnecessary labeling regulations would have unfairly hurt Washington farmers, food producers and grocers, cost taxpayers millions, increase food prices and give misleading information to consumers about the safety of the products they know and trust."

YES campaign: We might lose the battle, but we'll win the war...

Steve Hoffman: The GMO labeling genie is out of the bottle

However, many observers still believe that the broader GMO labeling campaign has now gained so much momentum that other state-led initiatives will eventually pass.

And this will in turn make a federal GMO labeling law more likely as even opponents of labeling would rather adhere to one set of federal rules than a patchwork of different rules in different states, argue supporters.

Commenting last night, Steve Hoffman, a natural products industry consultant and a member of the Yes on 522 finance committee, said: "We think it is too close to call but the campaign remains very optimistic. I believe we are coming in about where the polls placed us."

Regardless of the final result, he said the I-522 campaign showed the growing groundswell around the country in favor of mandatory GMO labeling, adding: "The genie's out of the bottle on this. There is already talk of what the next state to approach is."

David vs Goliath?

Steve Hoffman: 'There is already talk of what the next state to approach is'

Meanwhile, the narrative that ‘big food’ bought the NO vote by outspending the opposition - which didn’t have as deep pockets - has been gaining traction - and just because Prop 37 and I-522 failed, the pressure on firms to label or avoid GMOs remains as strong as ever, he said.

The fact that the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) only disclosed the names of the food companies that had contributed to the NO campaign after it was sued by Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson, also fed into this narrative, he told us earlier this week.

He added: “[The NO to I-522 campaign] is by far the largest funded campaign in Washington state history. Everybody’s talking about how corporate money is trying to buy a campaign and I think that story is getting some traction."

OCA: We expect that it will be days, if not weeks, before we know the final outcome

Katherine Paul, director of communications and development at the Organic Consumers Association, said: "Washington is a vote-by-mail state, so there are still hundreds of thousands of votes yet to count. We expect that it will be days, if not weeks, before we know the final outcome.

"Unfortunately, as was the case in California, pesticide manufacturers and junk food companies poured millions of dollars into a deceitful, misleading campaign that clearly influenced many voters. They were so desperate to win in Washington, that they brazenly violated campaign finance laws in an attempt to buy votes."

Biotechnologist: People in urban areas tend to support the process based labels, while those in rural, farm areas do not

Alan McHughen: "City folks hold an unreal, romantic view of farming and food production"

Plant biotechnologist Alan McHughen at the University of California, Riverside, told FoodNavigator-USA that his "biggest concern is that the geographical split in Washington mirrors that of Prop 37 in California last year; that is, people in urban areas tend to support the process based labels, while those in rural, farm areas do not. 

"This shows that city folks hold an unreal, romantic view of farming and food production, while those more directly involved in farming and food know how meaningless and unworkable process based labels would be.

"As an educator, I'm concerned at anything that further divides our urban and rural communities. The GM label issue is only one aspect of the schism."

What is I-522?

Under the provisions of I-522 processed foods made with ingredients from GE crops would have been required to state 'clearly and conspicuously' that they are ‘partially produced with genetic engineering’ or ‘may be partially produced with genetic engineering’.

However, many products were exempt, including: Certified organic foods, foods sold in restaurants, medical foods, foods made with GM enzymes or other processing aids, alcoholic beverages, food from animals fed GM feed, and (until 2019) foods containing less than 0.9% by weight of 'engineered materials'.

As it stands, federal law does not require the genetically engineered foods to be labeled  as the FDA has consistently argued that they do not differ from other foods "in any meaningful or material way" or present any different or greater safety concerns than foods developed by traditional plant breeding methods.

Large food and biotech companies, meanwhile, have consistently opposed labeling because they believe it would reinforce an erroneous perception that there is something wrong with GM crops.

However, supporters of GMO labeling argue that consumers have a right to know what they are eating.

Click on the link below to see that the GMA thinks about the initial results plus two leading food law attorneys.

Attorney on I-522: Maybe it is time for GMO labeling supporters to revise strategy and focus on clear legal standards for non-GMO labeling instead?

Click here  to keep track of the votes as they are counted. 

A selection of tweets on I-522

3 comments (Comments are now closed)

Scientific research finds that Monsanto's GM corn causes kidney and liver damage in laboratory rats

I-522 TV ads should have shown the public what happens to rats fed Monsanto's GMO corn and herbicide over a lifetime - the result is shown in both lab tests and shocking photos - huge mammary tumors, damage to the kidneys, pituitary glands and liver. The research was done in France by Seralini and other scientists and was published in Sept 2012. See the photos and the entire full text article at http://keephopealive.org/longtermtoxicityofroundup.pdf
The state of America’s health is SAD based on the Standard American Diet. Over 10,000 people die of cancer each week, over 100 million of us are obese, have high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, and tens of millions of us are either diabetic or pre-diabetic. 90,000 people are currently waiting for kidney transplants. Shall we continue to bury our head in the sand and not look for its many causes?

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Posted by Conrad LeBeau
08 November 2013 | 04h442013-11-08T04:44:25Z

Massive Cover Up

According to Jeffrey Smith, leading spokesperson on the health dangers of GM foods and author of "Seeds of Deception" the #1 rated book on the topic, government officials around the globe have been coerced, infiltrated and paid off by the agricultural biotec giants. Health dangers have been covered up. Back in 1992 the overwhelming consensus among FDA scientists was that GM crops can have unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects. Various departments and experts spelled these out in detail, listing allergies, toxins, nutritional effects, and new diseases as potential problems. They urged long-term safety studies. In spite of the warnings, according to public interest attorney Steven Druker who studied the FDA's internal files, "References to the unintended negative effects of bioengineering were progressively deleted from drafts of policy statement (over the protests of agency scientists)." The FDA scientists' concerns were not only ignored, their very existence was denied. Thus, the FDA does not require GM food safety testing. Biotech companies can submit whatever information they choose and the FDA does not conduct or commission any studies of their own. The National Academy of Sciences describes the US system as inadequate and flawed. Editor of the prestigious journal Lancet said: "It is astounding that the FDA has not changed their stance on GM food adopted in 1992. The policy is that GM crops will receive the same consideration for potential health risks as any other new crop plant. This stance is taken despite good reasons to believe that specific risks may exist.....Governments should never have allowed these products into the food chain without insisting on rigorous testing for effects on health."
How short sighted is this massive experiment with world agriculture? The question is not if, but when we will wake up to the very great harm genetic engineering is causing. It's already starting....a new generation of super weeds that Round Up can't kill. According to the Scientific American: "An estimated 11 million acres (in the USA) are infested with 'super weeds' some of which grow several inches a day and defy even multiple dousings of Roundup." Defective and deformed babies being born in areas where Round Up is used extensively. Multitudes of farmers in India committing suicide because they can't afford to buy Monsanto's seeds. Sterile and dead animals from ingesting GM feed. The list is growing. When will we wake up? According to Dr. Mercola who runs a natural health website: "GM foods are, from my perception, one of the most significant threats that we have against the very sustainability of the human race." If you don't eat organic, you have no chance not to eat GM foods. Even the organic label is being assaulted on all fronts and being "dumbed down" by corporations trying to get in on the money to be made selling organic. But it's all we've got at the moment.

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Posted by Cynthia Krikava
07 November 2013 | 06h322013-11-07T06:32:55Z

Crocodile Tears

Oh, spare us the phony crocodile tears for the "poor farmers" who are supposedly being hurt by the 'urban/rural divide'. 'Divide and conquer' is biotech's own modus operendi.

And where is the sympathy for the organic farmers who have been sued by Monsanto for patent infringement when Monsanto's GMO pollen blew onto their organic land? Where is the sympathy for the Amish farmers being threatened and sued for selling raw milk to willing customers who don't want their kids being turned into rBGH science experiments? And where is the sympathy for farm workers who are being sickened by exposure to the increasing quantities of herbicides and pesticides required to keep GMO-driven superweeds and resistant insects in check? Hmmmmmm... it's not on the corporate offices of the biotech corporations, or their shills in academia and government, that's for sure. Kimberly-Clark isn't making most of its Kleenex profits from biotech exec's and scientists
weeping for the fate of the family farmer.

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Posted by Jennifer Christiano
06 November 2013 | 18h512013-11-06T18:51:04Z

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