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Debate over GMO food labeling initiative heating up

Okanogan Specialty Fruits

With voters to decide on the fate of Initiative 522 in November, the debate over the labeling of genetically-modified foods is heating up.

Genetically-modified foods use a genetic piece of another plant or animal to modify the quality of the food, or make it easier for a grower to produce. But there are some who worry about the possible ill health effects such products may have.

Proponents have been working on the issue for some time now, and the No on Initiative 522 campaign is now gearing up for the debate.

Dan Newhouse, former head of the state Department of Agriculture, feels there is already a good option for folks who want to avoid foods that have been genetically engineered.

“They can by choosing organic foods where they buy their groceries, and be assured there are no genetically-engineered products in that,” he said.

But I-522 proponent Elizabeth Larter says for many state residents, organic isn’t a viable option.

“Every consumer should have a right to know what’s in their food, and unfortunately not every Washington shopper can afford to buy organic. So this labeling does provide every Washington shopper to make an informed decision when they go the grocery store,” Larter said.

Another issue for the No campaign is what Newhouse says is loopholes in the initiative wording.

“You bought a pizza at your local grocery store, it would have to be labeled. But if you bought it at a pizzeria or a grocery store, it wouldn’t," he said. 

Initiative proponent Elizabeth Larter explains the reasoning behind that apparent shortcoming: "In your grocery store in the freezer section, where you get frozen pizza, it has to list all that information, and the local pizzeria does not.

“I-522 is the same thing. It labels it in the grocery store and not in the restaurant. And that is confirming to standards, so we are not more strict than any other countries that are labeling genetically-modified foods."

I-522 opponents also say while milk, cheese, and other dairy products would not be required to be labeled, soy milk would require a label. Proponent Larter says that’s because much of the soy milk produced in the U.S. comes from genetically-modified soy beans, while cows are not genetically-engineered.