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Seattle City Council Votes to Support I-522, GMO Labeling

Damian Dovarganes
AP Photo

The Seattle City Council has voted, 8 to 1, to support Initiative 522, which would  require labels on food products that have been genetically modified or contain genetically-modified ingredients.

The council's decision comes ahead of the general election when voters will decide whether to approve the initiative. 

Council member Richard Conlin introduced the resolution, saying the proposed labeling is similar to standards already in effect in the European Union and many other countries.

“It’s important to note that the council is not taking a position for or against genetic engineering, but simply stating that consumers have the right to know what is in their food, just as they have the right to know ingredients and nutritional information,” Conlin said.

Conlin went on to reiterate many of the arguments put forward by supporters of Initiative 522: concerns about lack of independent testing on the risks of genetically engineered foods.

He says Washington farmers are increasingly dependent on exports and with 64 countries now requiring labeling, those markets could be lost. 

Also, he said organic farmers who grow crops near genetically engineered fields could be put at risk from crop contamination and may not even know when modified seeds are in use nearby.

Council member Jean Godden provided the sole vote against the resolution. She noted thebeneficial use of genetically-modified crops such as corn and rice in developing nations. And she mentioned that institutions as admired as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation support their use in Africa.

“This issue is coming before the voters in November. It is not a matter that will be decided by the city council. And for this reason, I will vote no today, because I believe this should see a full economically-based discussion,” Godden said.

Just as the council was considering the resolution, the Washington Wheat Growers Association issued a statementstrongly opposing the initiative. It says the measure would force farmers and food companies to implement costly new labeling and record-keeping requirements that do not exist in any other U.S. state. 

And the Yes on 522 campaignannounced Monday that business leaders supporting their campaign will gather in at Theo Chocolate in Seattle on Wednesday, to show their support for new labels. Ice Cream company Ben & Jerry's co-founder Jerry Greenfield is a headliner, along with a Global Grocery Coordinator from the Whole Foods Market chain.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to