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Top U.S. Food Safety Lawyer Bill Marler Backs Washington Ballot Initiative I-522 to Label GMOs

Submitted by Food Democracy Now on July 30, 2013 - 4:40pm

Initiative 522, the November ballot measure that requires labeling of genetically modified foods, has won important support from the Seattle attorney who handles more legal cases of injury from food safety violations than any other in the country.

“After 20 years of doing food borne illness litigation, I believe it is unwise not to tell what is in food or how it is made:  The more we know, the better,” said Bill Marler.  “On average, consumers make a good decision with the proper information.  It’s transparency, the same philosophy you have behind the Freedom of Information Act or our campaign finance disclosure laws.”

The state’s voters are going to hear an awful lot about Initiative 522 between now and the first Tuesday in November.

The initiative would require most raw agricultural commodities, processed foods plus seed and seed stocks, if produced using genetic engineering as defined, to be labeled as genetically engineered when offered for retail sale in Washington.  If adopted, it would become effective in July of 2015.

Milk, cheese and other dairy products would not need to be labeled.  Soy milk would face the requirement.

The measure has already drawn opposition from the Washington State Farm Bureau and Washington Association of Wheat Growers, and conservative editorialists at The Seattle Times, the Spokane Spokesman Review, the Tri-City Herald and the Wenatchee World.

“There is no reliable evidence crops containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, pose any risks,” the Times argued in a February editorial. Eastern Washington newspapers have argued that I-522 would hurt the image of Washington agriculture.

The initiative is supported by such groups as the PCC Natural Markets, Whole Foods Market, and has won praise from Washington Conservation Voters.

Marler believes that agribusiness shouldn’t feel threatened by the measure, and ought to get out front when members of the public want to know what goes into their bodies.

As an example, he cited the cross-country uproar last year over a product known in the industry as “lean finely textured beef” — but to the nation as “Pink Slime.”  It is a food additive that at one time was found in 70 percent of the ground beef sold across America, until a March, 2012, expose by ABC News.

“They take the real leftovers of the cow, the last possible bit of meat, treat it with an ammonia process, and treat it as lean ground beef,” said Marler.  “Once they were caught, people instinctively thought it was bad.  The old paradigm that you can sell something by hiding information, people aren’t buying it.”

The “Pink Slime” controversy caused processing plants to close, cattle futures to plunge on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and one company producing the stuff — AFA Foods — to file for bankruptcy protection.  COSTCO announced it would not carry beef containing the additive.  Safeway followed, and then SuperValu and Kroger.

Such politicians as Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Texas Gov. Rick Perry railed against the critical coverage, and toured an endangered packing plant.  But, as it were, the herd of public opinion had bolted.  No effort by industry, nor bluster by farm state governors, could repair the loss of confidence.

“We have no idea what has GMO’s and what doesn’t,” said Marler.  “If people had this information readily available, Initiative 522 would not be needed.  Being straightforward and honest essentially benefits the company, too. It is beyond me why companies don’t get ahead of the curve but fight to the last breath.  It is a fight that engenders public distrust.”

“There is a good opportunity for Washington to take the lead in this.”

The No-on-522 campaign sees it differently, arguing that “Initiative 522 would mandate special food labeling regulations in Washington that don’t exist in any other state.”

Originally posted: Seattle Politics.

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