As voters in Washington state go to the ballot box on November 5 to consider special labels for foods with genetically-modified ingredients, I have a single thought: I’ve seen this movie before.
A year ago, I was caught in the middle of my own state’s battle over labels, in an election that saw a majority of Californians reject Proposition 37, which sought to do many of the same things as Washington’s I-522. Even earlier, Oregon voters also said no to special labels.
Washington state’s Pacific coast neighbors made the right decision: Passage of these initiatives in California and Oregon would have increased the cost of food and encouraged frivolous lawsuits.
Citizens in Washington would be wise to rebuff I-522 as well.
The fundamental problem with I-522 is that it’s not about food labels at all. The real agenda of the special-interest groups that favor it is something more radical: They want to ban all GM foods, even though they’re a perfectly safe and healthy choice, as organizations ranging from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the American Medical Association continue to point out.
Their agenda is one-part ideological (hostility to modern methods of food production) and one-part commercial (many of them have a stake in the organic food industry, which they assume would benefit from I-522’s passage).
This small-minded, self-interested thinking ignores an important reality: The world needs GM crops and foods. With a population rocketing toward 9 billion by 2050, our planet must figure out how to produce more food on less land. This is one of the most urgent tasks of our century, involving questions of human life and environmental wellbeing. What you do in Washington State will impact others who want access to this safe technology.
Agriculture biotechnology is not the only solution, but it’s a necessary element. Farmers want access to these tools so they can defeat pests and weeds, withstand droughts, make more efficient use of water—and grow the food we need in a sustainable way.
If you believe in thinking globally and acting locally, then think about all the people around the globe who depend on modern methods of food production—and then act locally by rejecting a ballot initiative that will make GM foods harder to produce and costlier to consume.
Here’s another troubling fact to consider: If I-522 passes, grocery-store bills in the state of Washington will rise by about $450 per year for a family of four, according to the Washington Research Council.
Wealthy people may be able to absorb this financial blow without much discomfort. For struggling families, however, I-522 would function like a regressive tax. Worst of all, it’s a regressive tax on something they cannot live without.
So opposing I-522 doesn’t even require the vision to think globally. Just think locally: Think of neighbors who are unemployed or forced into part-time work because of a stagnant economy, seniors on fixed incomes, and young people with low-wage jobs.
Should they be forced to spend more money on food?
We all want safe food, and if I-522 were about food safety, then it might deserve backing. Yet every serious scientist and researcher who has examined GM food agrees that it’s perfectly safe. We’ve been eating GM products for years, without any negative consequences for public health. For more than a decade, most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States have been genetically modified. If they were bad for us, we’d know by now.
As I listen to the debate over I-522, I’m reminded of what happened here in California just 12 months ago. On first glance, the idea of stronger labeling standards sounded appealing. After voters learned more about the proposed law, however, they began to see its flaws and understand all of its bad side effects and unintended consequences.
The Seattle Times took a close look at I-522 and urged its readers to vote it down. It’s “a clumsy, emotion-laden campaign” based on “alarmist concerns” rather than sound science.
I-522 may feel like a bad movie. In this case, however, you can’t just leave the theater. Instead, you must head to the voting booth and just say no.
Ted Sheely raises lettuce, cotton, tomatoes, wheat, pistachios, wine grapes and garlic on a family farm in the California San Joaquin Valley. He volunteers as a board member of Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.