The initiative would have required labels on foods containing genetically engineered ingredients
Washington state voters on Tuesday rejected an initiative that would have required foods containing genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled.
The vote was 54.8% opposed to labeling and 45.2% in favor of it.
Had it passed, Initiative 522 would have made the state the first in the nation to require such labeling.
The initiative was the most expensive in state history, though it was largely fought by out-of-state interests.
The No on 522 campaign set a record for fundraising, bringing in $22 million in donations according to The Seattle Times. Just $550 came from Washington residents, according to the newspaper. The top five contributors were the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences and Bayer CropScience.
The largest donor to the pro-labeling campaign were California-based Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C. However the initiative garnered almost 30% of its funding from individuals in Washington state, the Times reported.
Food industry ads claimed that the initiative would raise food prices. Labels would mislead consumers into thinking that products that contain genetically engineered ingredients are “somehow different, unsafe or unhealthy,” said Brian Kennedy of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a food industry group based in Washington, D.C.
The Yes on 522 campaigns emphasized consumers right to know what’s in their food.
The Washington initiative was part of an ongoing national fight by those opposed to genetically engineered crops to push for labeling. A similar, bruising $37 million battle in California in 2012 went against labeling advocates. The final vote was 51.4% opposed and 48.6% in favor.
“Sooner or later, one of these is going to pass. It’s only a matter of time. At some point the industry is going to get tired of pouring this kind of money into these campaigns,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University.
She said she doesn’t believe there’s anything dangerous about genetically engineered foods but is concerned about corporate control of the food supply.
Genetically engineered crops have a gene from another plant inserted into them to give them some ability they didn’t have before.
There are two common genetic modifications. One is for herbicide tolerance: Plants are given a gene that protects them from harm when a farmer sprays them with herbicides to kill weeds. The other is a gene from a soil bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis that allows plants to produce their own insecticide.
A huge proportion of commodity crops grown by U.S. farmers are genetically engineered: 97% of the nation’s sugar beets, 93% of the soybeans, 90% of the cotton and 90% of the feed corn for animals, according to the 2013 figures from the Department of Agriculture.
About 60% of the papaya grown in the United States, all in Hawaii, has been genetically engineered to allow it to withstand the ringspot virus, which virtually wiped out papaya production in the islands in the 1980s, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.
Very small amounts of genetically engineered zucchini, yellow squash and sweet corn are also sold in the United States.
The Food and Drug Administration does not require foods containing genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled because it considers them “functionally equivalent” to conventionally grown crops.