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GMO Labels Vote in Washington State May Have Ramifications for Country

posted on November 8, 2013

Despite a 16-day government shutdown; an 11th-hour deal averting default on America’s debt; and uncertainty over the botched rollout of Obamacare, U.S. businesses stepped up their hiring in October.

The Labor Department reported Friday that employers added 204,000 positions to their payrolls last month. The unemployment rate, however, ticked UP a-tenth of a point to 7.3 percent. But that was likely because furloughed federal workers were temporarily counted among the ranks of the jobless.

The report did contain a few causes for concern: The percentage of Americans working or looking for work -- known as the Labor Force Participation Rate -- fell in October to a 35-year low. Again though, that figure is believed to have been distorted by the shutdown.

And the government reports the U.S. economy, as measured by gross domestic product, grew at an annual rate of 2.8 percent in the 3rd quarter of 2013. That’s up three-tenths of a point from the previous 3-month period. But consumer spending, which accounts for more than 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, grew by a tepid 1.5 percent in the third quarter. Though positive, that’s down three-tenths of point from the previous three months.

Reduced consumer spending is a troubling development for the economy, especially as retailers' all-important holiday shopping season gets underway later this month.

But critics of mandatory labeling on products containing GMOs received an early Christmas gift this week from voters in the Pacific Northwest.

GMO Labels Vote in Washington State May Have Ramifications for Country

Some of the nation’s top food companies, along with biotech and grocery organizations claimed victory against a Washington State ballot initiative this week. 

I-522 would have required mandatory labeling of food and beverages containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in the Evergreen State.  Voters appear to have rejected the proposal - a decision which may have ramifications around the country.  However, due to Washington’s vote-by-mail law, an official certification isn’t expected until December.

GMO’s are controversial because of perceptions that plants engineered with transgenic traits could open a Pandora’s Box of health problems for the general public. Advocates of the proposal say consumers have the right to know the contents of their food.

Jeffrey Smith/ Executive Director, Institute of Responsible Technology: “We don't want to treat consumers like idiots.  We want to give them information.  We want to entrust them to make decisions that are good for themselves and their families. We want mothers to know if their infant formula contains GMOs when there is a doctors’ organization in the United States that says don't feed your infant genetically modified infant formula.  So this is a fundamental right for people to know what they're putting into their bodies. 64 other countries either ban GMOs outright, or require labeling.  When they did require labeling, prices did not go up by one penny.”

 Critics cite logistic difficulties, complex supply chains and added costs – which likely would be passed on to consumers -- among reasons for disapproval.  Early polls suggested voters supported the measure, but an influx of out-of-state money for TV and radio campaigns seem to have turned the tide.

Proponents including Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, The Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C., natural food companies and private donors spent $7 million in their quest to identify all biotech ingredients in food.

But they were outspent 3-to-1 by those against the labeling initiative.  $22 million in opposing funds came from Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which collected hefty donations from many food corporations, including Nestle, General Mills, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

Twice-victorious food and grocery suppliers are fresh off a 2012 victory that toppled a similar proposal in California.  Prop 37 would have made America’s top agricultural state the first in the nation to require GMO labeling. 

Over $34 million was contributed against labeling efforts in the Golden State last year, contrasted with just over $4 million in favor of the legislation.

And while Connecticut did mandate GMO labeling this past summer, certain legal criteria must be met there before the statute can be enacted.

Connecticut’s rule declares that four other northeastern states must adopt similar laws, one of which must share a border with the Constitution State.  And, the states approving labeling mandates must meet certain population requirements based on the 2010 U.S. census.

The only other northeastern state to successfully advance GMO labeling requirements, thus far, is Maine.  So Connecticut could wait a long time before its proposal is fully enacted into law. 

In the wake of this week’s defeat in Washington state, similar proposals to implement GMO labeling mandates in neighboring Oregon may be dead on arrival.  And, anti-labeling interests now are petitioning the federal government for a nationwide ban on further  attempts to require labeling on foods containing scientifically-altered DNA.



Tags: biotech food global issues GMO government grocery health I-522 labels nutrition and Food safety vote Washington State