WAWG strongly opposes Initiative 522
Poorly written initiative would provide consumers misleading information while increasing costs for consumers and farmers
September 9, 2013
On behalf of more than 1,800 members, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers is strongly opposed to Initiative 522 on the November statewide ballot.
I-522 would force Washington farmers and food companies to implement costly new labeling, packaging, distribution and recordkeeping requirements that do not exist in any other state – whether or not they grow or produce genetically engineered crops (GE) or food products.
“I-522 is a costly and misleading measure that would hurt Washington’s family farmers and consumers,” said WAWG Past President Eric Maier of Ritzville. “While there is currently no commercially available GE wheat, I-522 would still impose new bureaucratic requirements on our members who grow and process wheat products for sale in Washington and around the world.”
Family farmers, food producers, grocers and retailers would have to implement distinct systems to grow, handle, process, transport and sell food and beverage products in Washington. Farmers would also have to create extensive new recordkeeping systems to track all food products -- foods that contain GE ingredients (so they can be properly labeled) as well as foods without GE ingredients.
These new requirements would add millions of dollars in costs for Washington farmers and food companies, and make Washington products more costly than in other states.
“I-522 is misleading. Requiring mandatory labeling of foods produced through genetic modification that are indistinguishable from foods produced through traditional methods would mislead consumers by falsely implying differences where none exist,” said WAWG President and Touchet area farmer, Ryan Kregger. “And, I-522 is so poorly written that it would provide consumers with inaccurate information about which foods may or may not contain GE ingredients. I-522 is so full of contradictory rules and exemptions that consumers would not get reliable information they can count on. I-522 is simply bad policy.”
Food labeling requirements should be, and have always been science-based to give consumers meaningful information about the foods they buy and eat. Under current statutes and regulations of the FDA and USDA, changes to foods require labeling only if the product has been significantly changed nutritionally or if there have been changes in other health-related characteristics of the food (allergenicity, toxicity, or composition). Mandatory, statebased GMO labeling would also risk diverting attention from other important safety and nutritional information.
For the record, there is no genetically modified wheat in commercial production in Washington State or elsewhere in the United States. We anticipate the introduction of GM wheat is a least a decade away. The industry is pursuing genetic modification to grow more and better wheat with less impact on the environment, such as reducing chemical usage. Washington State University researchers are also looking for ways to enhance wheat through genetic modification to allow those with wheat intolerance or celiac disease to eat wheat.
The Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) is a grassroots organization representing farmers who support the pursuit of new technologies, including genetic modification, to solve pressing environmental and production problems. The safety and quality of our products is our No. 1 priority.
“Some have tried to mislead the public claiming that export market disruption will be avoided with the passage of I-522,” explained WAWG Vice President Nicole Berg. “This initiative has nothing to do with export markets. It is about creating an unnecessary and expensive regulatory system that will ultimately hit Washington consumers in the pocketbook.”
I-522 is also unnecessary. Existing federal food labeling policies already provide consumers with ways to seek out GE free foods. The FDA and USDA currently provide clear guidelines for voluntary labels to aid consumers who make a personal decision not to consume food made from genetically modified ingredients. The FDA allows producers to label their products as ‘GM Free’ if the claim is accurate. The USDA runs the National Organic Program, a certification which allows producers to label products as ‘USDA Organic’ if they follow certain production standards. Foods with these labels by definition cannot contain any genetically modified material. Existing regulations already provide consumers with information and ample ability to choose not to purchase foods that have been genetically modified, if that is what they prefer.
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