By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Not all the votes are counted yet in the battle to label genetically modified (GM) foods in Washington state. But the initiative is trailing, 45 percent in favor to 55 percent opposed, and appears headed for defeat.

Yes on 522 logo

Voters in Washington state appear to have said No to the I-522 campaign to label genetically modified foods.

If it fails, I-522 would be the second citizen effort to label genetically modified foods to be shot down in a fusillade of campaign money from big corporations like Monsanto, Dupont, Pepsico and other major food companies, as well as the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). These groups spent $22 million to defeat the Washington measure, outspending the proponents for the measure by 3 to 1, according to news reports.

The opposition to the labeling measure ran campaign ads telling consumers that labeling would add hundreds of dollars to their grocery bills. That  falsehood also helped defeat a similar labeling initiative put before the voters in California one year ago.

The prospect of paying more for groceries appears to work well as a scare tactic, even though commonsense tells us that labeling foods should not add significant costs to grocery bills. Major food corporations already label their products for the 60 nations around the world that require labeling for GMO ingredients. They also print significant nutritional information about their products on the label as required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Proponents of labeling say it is important so that consumers can choose to buy, or avoid, products made with genetically modified foods. GMOs, also known as genetically engineered (GE) foods are genetically modified, and some people believe they’ve not been proven to be safe. Another complaint against GMO crops is that they’re typically engineered to sustain applications of certain pesticides, raising questions about whether that modification affects humans who consume these foods.

The FDA has pronounced many varieties of GMO crops — corn, soybeans and sugar beets, to name a few — to be safe and substantially similar to their non-modified cousins. But some outside research suggests these foods could have harmful health effects, and also that reliance on GMO crops has resulted in higher use of pesticides.

The coalition of food companies that opposed the I-522 labeling proposal called it “deceptive” and said it would cost consumers at the grocery store. “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. “Washington voters have soundly rejected this badly written and deceptive initiative.”

Ocean Robbins, son of Food Revolution author John Robbins, wrote today that the Washington battle pitted outside interests against local residents and businesses.

“Exactly $550 of the “no” campaign’s dollars came from inside Washington State.  This was a classic example of out-of-state corporate interests pouring massive money into maintaining control of our food systems,” he wrote in a blog on The Food Revolution Network website.

He also called out the food corporations for misleading consumers by telling them that labeling would come at a high price. The No on 522 ads “told consumers that this initiative would increase food prices by an average of $350-$400 per family per year. But Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) determined that this statement was untrue, and that this initiative would not raise the price of food.”

It appears that labeling movement deeply threatens major food manufacturers, not so much because they’d have to stamp a label on their packages — something that would cost very little, but because they fear a stampede away from GMO foods, which have become interwoven into hundreds of products in thousands of grocery stores across the U.S.

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