Washington State vs. GMO Foods
Political weirdness is endemic to Washington, the first state to legalize marijuana. But we've outdone ourselves this year with I-522, an initiative that would require labeling of some (but not all) foods that contain ingredients from genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
This is a controversial issue, with valid arguments on both sides. But, as usual, the initiative has been written in an illogical and misleading way,
The fundamental illogic of the measure is best explained by analogy. Suppose someone were to propose the following initiative:
All residents of the State of Washington will be required to wear and prominently display badges stating that they are not policemen. Only active policemen will be exempt from this requirement.
You would conclude that the proposer either had a paranoid fixation about policemen or was in the business of selling badges. The sensible alternative would be for policemen to be the only ones who need to wear badges.
I-522 has the same sort of upside-down logic. Instead of allowing GMO-free foods to carry special labels -- as is the current procedure for organic and gluten-free foods -- I-522 would require that everyone else be compelled to attach special labels to their products, thereby forcing them to incur extra expense and liability. Obviously, the real objective of the I-522 sponsors is to harass and penalize producers of GMO-containing foods -- at a considerable cost to the public in increased food prices and taxes.
Such a measure might be permissible for ingredients that are known to be toxic, like mercury in seafood. However, the proposers have not cited a single case where a GMO-containing food has been shown to have a harmful effect on consumers. Moreover, the use of GMO-containing foods has been endorsed by the American Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Washington State Academy of Sciences. So why all the fuss?
The truth is that most anti-GMO groups have hidden agendas. For example, the use of golden rice, a vitamin-enriched GMO rice that might have improved or saved the lives of millions of third-world children, has been hindered by the relentless attack of Greenpeace -- the environmentalists' strong-arm equivalent of ACORN. But their arguments against it are ethnic and economic; they make no claims that it is toxic. Similarly, the Friends of the Earth condemn the use of GMO-derived vanilla for sociological and ecological reasons, not because of any rationally perceived danger. Other GMO critics, although admitting the lack of evidence for GMO toxicity, condemn it because it encourages the use of pesticides. And at the root of virtually all anti-GMO campaigns lies a fanatical hatred of Monsanto as the Great Satan.
I-522 is similarly devious. It contains curious loopholes, such as the exemption of meat and dairy products and of food eaten away from home. On the other hand, it requires labeling of GM-beet derived sugar, which is chemically identical to natural sugar. Worst of all, I-522 contains hidden legal IEDs that might well force small farms and food producers out of business. The most frightening of these is the legalization of "bounty hunter lawsuits", whereby, if a negligible amount of GMO were found in an unlabeled food, any person could launch a lawsuit against the farmer and/or anyone else in the processing or distributing chain.
Despite such devious maneuvering, people with GMO phobia do have a right to know which foods they can comfortably eat and which to avoid. But they don't have the right to compel the rest of us to upset our economy to oblige them. There is no need to enact special laws for the state of Washington. There is already a Federal provision for a "non-G.M.O." label as a voluntary standard like "organic" labeling.
I hope and pray that I-522 fails, but I'm grateful to its sponsors for enlightening me. I used to laugh whenever someone talked about "eco-terrorism". I've stopped laughing.