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5 Nov, 2013 16:49

Will Monsanto win? Washington state votes on GMO-labeling

Will Monsanto win? Washington state votes on GMO-labeling

It’s one of the biggest issues up for vote in Washington this Election Day, and it doesn’t involve casting ballots to bring anyone in or out of office. Instead, Initiative 522 would require that all genetically altered foods be labeled as such.

It may sound boring to many, but the results of Tuesday’s vote will decide if Washington will become the first locale within the United States to require that so-called “frankenfoods” be properly labeled, an argument compelling enough to some that it has attracted the attention of environmentalists, agriculturists, corporations and trade groups far outside the state of only 6.9 million and propelled the localized election into the national spotlight.

Should Initiative 522 be approved after the polls close on Tuesday, other states across the US could take Washington’s lead and work towards passing similar measures elsewhere to ensure that citizens know that their food is even partially lab-made. If approved, the initiative will require all foods containing genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as a GMO by 2015. Some opponents in the food industry fear the potential outcome, though, and have dumped millions of dollars into a campaign that could cost Initiative 522 a chance at passing.

Supporters of the measure had raised $8.4 million as of this weekend, according to The Seattle Times, but the Washington Post reported on Tuesday morning that a coalition of critics have matched that amount nearly three times over and have invested their $22 million towards telling Washington that mandatory labeling on genetically-modified foods

Proponents of the initiative have received the bulk of their funding — $5.8 million, according to the Times — from supporters outside of Washington who believe the local outcome could pave the way for similar laws to be considered elsewhere in the country.

This is really out-of-state interests fighting over how to influence law in our state,” Matt Barreto, a political science professor at the University of Washington, told the Times.

Critics of genetically-modified, -engineered and –altered foods largely attest that the absence of both strong regulations and research should be enough to convince anyone not to consume something that’s been made using a not-so-natural process. And although upwards of 80 percent of packaged foods sold in the US include GMO ingredients, labels aren’t required to advertise as much, and much to the chagrin of skeptics who say there should be more transparency involved with regards to what they’re eating.

People have a right to know what is in their groceries,” Elizabeth Larter, a spokeswoman for the Yes on 522 campaign, told the Washington Post. “This is about letting you and me decide, and not having this information concealed from us.. . .We should be more transparent in our food system.”

Sarah Bryner, a research director at the national Center for Responsive Politics, added to the Times’ Brian Rosenthal that two-dozen states across the US are being used as testing grounds of sorts for bold new initiatives that could be copied elsewhere.

Certain states can be leaders on certain issues, and if you are a person who’s passionate about an issue, you may see it as being in your interest to support early adapters with the hope that it may trickle down to your own state or other states,” she told the Times.

Washington state already entered that category last year when voters there — along with the residents of Colorado — elected to legalize recreational marijuana in defiance of federal law. As progressive as the Pacific Northwest state is, however, big-time backing from corporate titans could cost Initiative 522 its chance as success.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association and allies like biotech giants Monsanto, Bayer and DuPont have spent at least $21 million towards defeating Initiative 522, and if history is any indication than it may pay off. Proposition 37 in California last year would have required GMO labeling as well, and although preliminary polls suggested it had a good chance at passing, a media blitz bought by the likes of Monsanto and others at the cost of over $45 million arguably helped the initiative ultimate be defeated.

In early September, Politico reports, a poll determined that 66 percent of Washingtonians supported Initiative 522. The most recent polling, however, found that support had dwindled down to 46 percent as of late October. With millions of dollars invested in television and radio ads across the state in just the last few days, though, the outcome is anyone’s guess before the polls close late Tuesday.