Published on: October 3, 2012
Yesterday,MNB reported that Seattle-based PCC Natural Markets has written a $100,000 check to support a Washington State initiative that would require the labeling of genetically engineered ingredients in products, an initiative that it described as being "very similar" to California Proposition 37, which is on the ballot and will be voted on this November 6.
In washington, proponents are hoping to get the issue on the ballot in 2013.
In my commentary, I wrote:I'm not entirely sure how similar the Washington State bill is to the California version; I've read the “The People’s Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act," and it looks to me like retailers could be held responsible for products that don't meet the mandates, and that there is plenty of opportunity for lawyers to get rich no matter what side they represent. (Legislation can be tough to decipher. God, I wish they'd write in plain English.)
I believe in GMO labeling, but I am persuaded that the California Proposition is hardly the best way to go. It puts the onus on retailers and is going to make too many trial lawyers wealthy. I also think that a national approach would be better. But, it appears the California approach may be the price that the food industry will have to pay for not taking the initiative on labeling before the government got involved.
Well, apparently I need to take a course in legislative bill reading, because Trudy Bialic, director of public affairs for PCC, sent me the following statement:
"Fact is: I-522 clearly states who IS responsible for labeling: seed and seed stock suppliers, and manufacturers. (Retailers are NOT named.) Additionally, there is a whole section in both Prop 37 and I-522 that explains who is exempt.
"The exemption language in both Prop 37 and I-522 says that if a company does not intentionally use GMOs, and yet some GM material inadvertently or unintentionally happens to contaminate the product (it could be at any level), that does not compromise the product and the company does not have to label it as containing GMOs. The essence of it is: as long as you take reasonable measures to avoid unintentional contamination, an affidavit that documents these efforts is all you need to comply with Prop 37 or I-522, and avoid having to label your products as 'contains GMOs' or 'May contain GMOs.'
"Affidavits must be provided by suppliers, and this is why seed or seed stock suppliers, and manufacturers are named as responsible for labeling. They have to know where their materials come from. After all, contamination of the seed supply is where 99% of the contamination originates anyway – not through cross-pollination, or at other points throughout the supply chain. (Also, we designated seed and seed stock suppliers because GMO soy comes off patent next year and, theoretically at least, GMO soy could be sold to a farmer without his knowledge, especially if s/he pulls their truck up to a bulk seed dispenser, so seed suppliers are named to protect farmers.)
"As for creating opportunity to make lawyers rich, it’s an argument that has been used against many consumer-friendly measures, from mandatory seatbelt laws to nutrition labeling. Remember, we didn’t have calorie and nutritional information on food labels until 1990. Country-of-origin labeling wasn’t required until 2002. The trans fat content of foods didn’t have to be labeled until 2006. These labels did not cause food costs to soar, nor did they prompt a flood of lawsuits that made a nation of lawyers rich. These common sense labeling laws are accepted now as important, and used by consumers every day. I suspect (although I can’t prove) this charge that labeling initiatives would make lawyers rich is because lawyers rate so low in popularity surveys, as in what professions are respected and admired. (If you say lawyers will benefit, it will convey negativity.)
"The truth is, the companies that are pouring money into defeating mandatory GMO labeling, such as ConAgra, General Mills and Kelloggs, already are complying with mandatory labeling laws
around the world. Labeling did not cause disruption or chaos in their market sourcing or distribution. Their businesses overseas continue to prosper.
"GMO foods already are labeled, by law, in 49 countries including China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Spain, France, Greece, Croatia, Poland, Hungary Russia, Italy, Germany and all the other nations of the European Union.
"Passing I-522 and Prop 37 would give us the same transparency on labels that these companies already are giving other customers overseas."