Our Voice: Reject Initiative 522

Here's a good rule of thumb for voters: Be skeptical of any initiative on the ballot.

Mass appeal is a pretty good way to market breakfast cereal, but experience shows that the sort of simple, emotional appeals that sell Wheaties often result in poor laws.

Remember Initiative 937 -- the measure approved by voters in 2006 to force utilities to purchase more energy from "green" sources like wind and solar?

It sounded great but ignored reality, and now ratepayers are paying to replace perfectly clean and existing hydropower with new generating facilities. That doesn't make financial or environmental sense.

Similarly, Initiative 522, which would require labeling of selective food products containing genetically modified organisms, is particularly troublesome because it's an easy message to pitch in 30-second soundbites.

Why shouldn't consumers have a right to know what's in the food they eat? That's the sort of simple, direct, emotional appeal that marketers can work with.

The arguments against the initiative require a discussion of economics and science. Yawn producing, but compelling nonetheless.

More than 30 agricultural groups and growers' organizations, representing thousands of Washington farmers, are opposing the initiative.

"I-522 would force Washington farmers and food companies to implement costly new labeling, packaging, distribution and recordkeeping requirements that do not exist in any other state," said Mike LaPlant, president of the Washington State Farm Bureau, in a statement.

Agriculture and food industry groups opposing I-522 include the Washington State Farm Bureau, Washington Association of Wheat Growers, Washington Friends of Farms & Forests, Northwest Grocery Association, Washington State Dairy Federation, Washington State Council of Farmer Cooperatives, Far West Agribusiness Association, Washington Cattlemen's Association, Washington Asparagus Council, Northwest Food Processors Association, Washington Potato & Onion Association, Yakima Valley Growers & Shippers Association, Franklin County Farm Bureau and many others.

Proponents of the initiative contend the requirements won't cost any money because farmers and processors routinely update labels.

But the Washington Research Council, a statewide conservative think tank, estimates the cost to consumers at between $200 and $520 a year for a family of four from 2015-19. After 2019, the cost would be more than $450 a year.

Additional costs might be warranted if the initiative would actually improve public safety, but it won't.

Sure, GMO labels would scare some consumers away from products, but there is no credible evidence to suggest they'd enjoy any health benefits as a result.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Health Organization and the European Union agree that GMOs are just as safe as other foods. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has tested all the GMOs on the market and determined that none is toxic or allergenic.

Rather than enact a costly and burdensome measure with no demonstrable benefits, consumers should just assume the food they eat contains GMOs unless it's certified organic or they've grown it themselves from organic seeds.

About 70 percent of processed foods in the U.S. contain genetically modified ingredients so it's a safe bet you've been consuming GMOs for decades.

The logical conclusion of the anti-GMO movement is to stop food scientists from tinkering with the DNA of crops and animals and put an end to the Frankenfood movement.

But while science can't find any detrimental health effects from consuming GMOs, the benefits to mankind from the technology are clear.

Conventional crops often require more water and pesticides than GMOs do, so the impact on the environment is reduced and so are costs by the technology.

GMO foods have delivered substantial benefits to people in developing countries and will continue to improve lives if fearmongering doesn't cripple research efforts.

A seven-year study of Indian farmers recently found that those growing a genetically modified crop increased their yield per acre by 24 percent and boosted profits by 50 percent.

Genetically engineered Golden Rice is curbing vitamin A deficiency, which blinds about 500,000 children worldwide every year and kills half of them.

The anti-GMO movement won't make food any safer, but its success would mean lower yields, increased pesticides and water use, and an end to genetic research that could save millions of lives in poor nations.

I-522 wouldn't end GMO research but it's a step in the wrong direction, adding costs without bringing benefits.

The Herald editorial board recommends voters reject Initiative 522.