Yes on 522: I'll have the non-genetically engineered apple pie, please

Published online: Sep 25, 2013

One thing I associate fall with is food. When I was 8 years old, my favorite fall treat was probably Halloween candy.

Now, it might just be my grandmother's Thanksgiving cornbread stuffing. Or, maybe her apple pie, made with freshly picked Braeburn apples from the small orchard in her backyard just outside of Seattle. Lucky for me, I know for a fact that her apples were not grown using genetic engineering, but not everyone in Washington has a grandmother with an orchard.

And it's not just apples - no one knows if the candy corn or Thanksgiving cornbread they will eat this fall was produced using (GE) corn, soy or sugar beets. This is because the United States, including Washington, does not yet require producers to label their products if they contain genetically engineered foods.

However, things could soon change in the Evergreen State. This coming November, Washington state will vote on I-522: a ballot measure that would require most raw and processed foods in Washington to be labeled if they were produced using genetic engineering. This initiative is monumental. If passed, Washington would be the first state to implement GE food labeling, as Connecticut and Maine are currently relying on additional states to pass a bill in order for their legislation to be implemented. Its passage would hopefully inspire other states to implement similar initiatives so that all U.S. consumers have a right to decide.

The campaign to label GE foods is very important to consumers as well as orchardists, farmers, fisherman and other small businesses in Washington. Numerous Washington-produced novelties, from apples to salmon, are foods threatened by genetic engineering and corporate concentration. Though GE apples are not currently in Washington's market, the USDA recently approved a three-year permit for a GE apple test-field in Washington. The nation's leading apple exporter might soon be producing genetically engineered fruit. If I-522 doesn't pass and GE foods remain unlabeled, we as consumers will remain blind to GE products in grocery stores, restaurants and on our plates. Some producers worry that unlabeled GE foods would hurt their livelihoods by limiting their export opportunities - seven out of 10 countries that import Washington apples require labeling of GE foods.

Unsurprisingly, "Big Ag," including pesticide companies like Monsanto and Dupont, are pouring money into the bill's opposition campaign. Recently, Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer wrote $4.5 million and $3.2 million checks respectively to fund the campaign against I-522. With this amount of money, the "No on 522" campaign has a major advertising edge-you can expect to see their propaganda pouring into the airwaves in the coming weeks.

These corporate giants are only looking to secure their own profit-driven interests. Why, otherwise, would these corporations actively deny consumer choice? Why would they force shoppers to buy their product when the product has not been adequately tested for health and safety?

Given the financial resources of Big Ag, it is essential that Americans nationwide stand by Washington's campaign and encourage similar campaigns in our states and federally. We cannot allow the Foodopoly to steal another win with their wallets. As citizens who deserve the right to decide what we eat, we must use our voice as a tool to stop the big biotech and pesticide industry from buying out our right to decide for ourselves what we eat and feed our families.

Luckily, public support of the GE labeling campaign in Washington is strong and unified. Farmers, fisherman, students and local businesses have joined concerned consumers who endorse the labeling initiative. Local coalition groups involved in the Yes on 522 campaign have been working hard to harness people power and help the movement grow and Food & Water Watch is proud to have several great local coordinators on the ground in Seattle, Belleview and Southwest Washington. You'll learn more about them in upcoming blogs.

On Tuesday, Oct. 15, Wenonah Hauter, author of Foodopoly, will be giving a special presentation on how by supporting 522 and GE food labeling, we're fighting the Foodopoly at Seattle Town Hall.