The initiative, titled I-522, must now be certified, all but a certainty as it needs slightly more than 240,000 valid signatures. After that it goes to the legislature, said one of the issue’s supporters, State Sen. Marilyn Chase, a Democrat representing a north suburban Seattle district.
According to state law, the legislature can adopt the measure as law, send it on to the voters or it can send an amended version that would appear on the November, 2013 ballot alongside the original version. It’s most likely that the legislature will send the initiative on to the voters as it stands now, Chase told FoodNavigator-USA.
“We have polling showing that 72% of the people in this state support this initiative,” she said.
“I believe very definitely that I have the right to know what kind of food I am putting in my body. For me it’s primarily a huge matter of choice.
"I recognize that the science is not totally in. We truly do not know whether this GMO food is safe or if it is not,” she said.
“I-522 would give us what Alaska already has and that’s a law making sure that genetically engineered fish are labeled. That’s for starters,” said Trudi Bialic, director of public affairs for PCC Natural Markets in Seattle, the largest consumer owned food co-op in the US. Bilalic has been a member of the campaign’s steering community.
“We’re really concerned about protecting the identity and integrity Washington export products to GE sensitive markets,” she said.
A similar initiative, Proposition 37, was rejected by voters in California in November. Opponents, which included the Council for Responsible Nutrition, cited what they called flaws in the initiative, including a private enforcement clause that they said could lead to a rash of class action lawsuits similar to the situation that exists in California under Prop 65.
Since 1993, Washington has required farmed salmon to be so labeled, Chase said.
“We are not asking for anything that isn’t already being done,” she said.
I-522 also includes a private enforcement provision, one that appears similar to that in Prop 37. It allows private citizens to file suit to enforce the law if state officials do not take action 60 days after being notified of a violation. The clause also allows citizens to recover investigation costs and attorneys’ fees.
Chase said she was aware of the risk of lawsuits but said the clause is necessary to make sure the law is enforced.
“I think it necessary because I think that oftentimes that even with our farmed salmon labeling we had to go to court to make sure it was enforced. The grocery stores were ignoring it. You have laws on the books and some of the corporations chose to ignore it,” she said.
Costs already built in
Other criticisms raised by Prop 37 opponents concerned added costs to comply with labeling requirements, costs that would be passed on to customers.
Bialic dismissed these concerns, saying food companies already change labels regularly, and already use GMO labels in the 62 countries that require it.
“If you look at it in very flat, objective economic concerns, there is not question about what should be done here,” she said.
“They are already starting these scare tactics, saying it’s going to raise your grocery bill. Food companies change labels every 18 months. That’s not going to raise the cost of food. We got trans fat labels in 2006; it didn’t raise the cost of food. It’s already built in to the cost of food,” she said.