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Food Processors Announce Opposition to I-522, Genetically Modified Crop Initiative

A worker in the state elections office readies petitions for the counting of signatures last Thursday.

A worker in the state elections office readies petitions for the counting of signatures last Thursday.

Consider this another sign that the debate over Initiative 522 is going to get awfully heated, awfully fast. The Northwest Food Processors Association has delivered its opening salvo against the measure, which would require the labeling of seed and food with genetically modified DNA. It was a biggie in California last year, and it’s probably coming to a ballot near you.

The measure, favored by activists and a small but vocal segment of the farming community, is modeled after a California measure that failed at the polls last November. It would mandate labels for the Washington market, meaning that products sold on Washington shelves would have to be segregated and labeled differently than those sold in other states. And it appears likely that opposition will mirror that in the Golden State last year — from agribusiness, grocers, general business groups and biotech manufacturers.

Though the press release is dated last Friday, the day after proponents dropped off signatures with state elections officials, it arrived in reporters’ email baskets Tuesday. Until the measure is certified for the ballot, it is unlikely that an opposition campaign will file formal papers – but it looks like that is just a matter of time. Here’s what the release says:

Northwest Food Processors Association Respond to State-Level Food Labeling Initiative

Portland, Ore., Jan. 4 – Northwest Food Processors Association (NWFPA) responded today in opposition to I-522, an initiative that would require Washington-only labels on thousands of common food products.

Similar to Prop 37—which failed in California—Initiative 522 would require labels on any food products sold in Washington that contain genetically modified ingredients. It also includes stiff penalties for failing to comply and the threat of private “bounty-hunter” type lawsuits.

“This initiative, although well-meaning, hurts the small and medium sized food processors in our state,” said Dave Zepponi, President of the Northwest Food Processors Association. “The cost of compliance will be felt by consumers and will disproportionately impact small- to medium-sized businesses in our region, putting local jobs at risk.”

Food labeling requirements are primarily handled at the federal level because a patchwork of state laws creates redundant – and possibly conflicting – government regulation for local companies and the nation’s food supply. Concerned consumers already can be assured that they are buying non-genetically modified product by buying organic. This national certification requires products labeled as “organic” to be free of any genetically-modified ingredient.

“Supporters of this initiative want a ‘Washington-only’ food labeling standard that’s found nowhere else in the country. Consumers should be aware that compliance with this type of standard is very complex and expensive, and it reaches all the way up the supply chain,” said Zepponi. “It only makes sense to deal with this issue at the federal level, where a uniform approach to labeling products will provide a level playing field for the businesses in our state without putting Washington families at risk.”

“Food processing has been one of the few bright spots in the Northwest economy during the recession. Let’s not inadvertently harm those who are building our economic base with burdensome and unnecessary red tape.”

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