WA’s GMO foods labeling initiative is nation’s ballot measure to watch

By   /   October 23, 2013  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 2 of 4 in the series Ballot measures 2013

GMO SPOTLIGHT: GMO labeling measure in Washington state takes the stage across the country.

By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog

All eyes, or perhaps stomachs, are focused on Washington state as the Nov. 5 election approaches.

A measure that asks voters if the state should require food with genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled has the attention of the country.

“It’s a really big measure, I think one of the top five most important measures of this year,” Brittany Clingen, ballot measures project director for Ballotpedia, told Northwest Watchdog. Ballotpedia is a nonprofit, non-partisan encyclopedia of state, local and federal politics and elections.

Other states have broached the issue, but the question of labeling GMOs is still largely undecided. Maine and Connecticut passed labeling laws this past summer, but they won’t take effect unless additional states follow suit. And state legislatures have approved GMO labeling laws, but the subject has never been approved via a ballot measure, Clingen said.

Ballots have been mailed in Washington and the campaigns for and against the labeling of GMO foods are cooking with TV ads flooding local channels. Washington voters will consider two ballot initiatives this year — the GMO measure (I-522) and an initiative that extends the signature-gathering period for citizens’ initiatives (I-517). Though there aren’t that many measures — an exceptionally low measure year, Clingen said — the prominence of the GMO foods initiative makes this 2013 Special Election a big deal.

So as you look over your ballots, here’s some information you can use. We’ll start with GMOs since that’s the hot topic.

  • To date, the yes campaign for the initiative has spent $7.3 million while the no campaign has spent $17.1 million (a record for Washington state). As the election approaches, the ads have hit hard with information coming out the corn ears. “Both sides are very vehement about their positions,” Clingen said.
  • There is a free market option here. Already, a non-profit organization called the Non-GMO project has taken charge in educating consumers on GMO foods and making options available. Whole Foods and local grocery chain New Seasons already offer several non-GMO products that are labeled as such. There’s even a non-GMO shopping app for your phone. The Success Council, a freedom based platform, argues letting the free market sort out GMOs will work better than the government, which has already come under fire for the so-called Monsanto Protection Act that would have protected the agriculture giant from lawsuits.
  • Both sides are getting creative. A band called the Refusers has created a music video here that supports GMO labeling. It has gone viral with 262,000 hits, according to the band. But several major newspapers are saying no to the GMO labeling initiative.
  • The yes campaign had a strong lead in the polls last month, but it’s slipping, according to recent polling. The shift from a strong pro-labeling lead as the election draws near is not unlike what happened in California, where a GMO labeling initiative died by a slim margin after a strong $45.6 million campaign from opponents, Clingen said.

Let’s not forget about Washington’s other ballot measure, which would extend the signature-gathering period for initiatives from 10 months to 16 months, add penalties for harassing signature gatherers and limit lawsuits on a ballot measure to after the vote takes place.

The major focus of this campaign has been on the penalty for interfering with petition drives. The opposition argues it would infringe on property rights, keeping store owners from being able to interfere if a signature gatherer is harassing customers.

The Washington Policy Center has an analysis here. The signature gathering, also known as the “initiative on initiatives,” is spearheaded by conservative political activist Tim Eyman and has actually gained some supporters from the other side of the political spectrum.

Contact Shelby Sebens at [email protected]

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Part of 4 in the series Ballot measures 2013


Shelby formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.