NO on I-522: New labels would be costly, misleading

Initiative 522 on the Nov. 5 ballot would increase food costs in our state and provide consumers with unreliable and inaccurate labeling information. It’s a misleading measure that fails to deliver on its fundamental promise to help consumers make more informed choices.

Our business is an example of the hidden costs and misleading requirements of this measure. We manufacture surimi seafood, a processed seafood product used in a variety of products. Some of our minor ingredients are derived from genetically engineered (GE) crops – even though most of these ingredients are highly refined and contain no proteins or genetically engineered content, and our product itself is not genetically engineered.

If Initiative 522 passes, we would be forced to put a misleading label on our products in order to sell them here in Washington — unless we remake them with more expensive, specially handled, non-GE ingredients just for the small fraction of our products sold here.

I-522 would saddle our company, along with thousands of other Washington food companies and farmers, with costly and onerous new requirements. This would increase our costs and make our products more expensive – without providing any health or safety benefit to consumers.

In turn, the added costs, documentation and special handling this would require would put our company and many other food manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage with those in other states.

Most importantly, I-522 will not provide consumers with accurate or reliable food labels. That’s because the measure is so poorly written that it would require thousands of food products to be labeled as “genetically engineered,” even though they may not be.

At the same time, the measure exempts thousands of other products from its labeling requirements – in fact, two-thirds of the foods we buy in Washington would be exempt from labeling under I-522, even if these foods do contain GE content or are made with GE ingredients.

I-522 comes with enormous new costs for family farmers, food producers, grocers and retailers, who would have to implement expensive new handling systems to grow, handle, process, transport and sell food and beverage products that may be sold in Washington.

These costs will be passed on to consumers. A recent study by the Washington Research Council found I-522 would cost families hundreds of dollars per year in higher grocery prices.

Consumers can already make more informed choices under our existing labeling system, which is better and more reliable than the regulations proposed by I-522. Consumers can choose certified organic food, or select from thousands of foods that are already voluntarily labeled as “non-GMO.”

The safety of our customers, accuracy in food labeling and supplying consumers with reliable information is paramount to us as a trusted food producer. I-522 will provide consumers misleading information and end up costing us all. Please look into the facts about I-522 and join me in voting no.

Robert Bleu is the president of Shining Ocean, a producer of surimi seafood products located in Sumner. He lives in Puyallup with his family.