Initiative 522 would require labeling of most raw farm commodities, processed foods and seeds if genetically engineered. If adopted, the legislation would make Washington the first state in the nation with GMO labeling. A similar measure was defeated in California three months ago.
Supporters of the measure say it’s a public health issue about informing the public.
“We believe people should have the freedom to choose what they put into their bodies,” said Nick Pascoe with the Natural Products Association Northwest. “They should be free to make that choice through mandatory labeling.”
Opponents of the initiative told lawmakers the new labeling standards would create big problems for farmers and food processors and say it is an attempt to scare people away from food that doesn’t present a health risk.
Lawmakers also heard testimony on a I-517, a measure backed by longtime initiative activist Tim Eyman. Dubbed the “Protect the Initiative Act,” the measure would set penalties for interfering with signature-gatherers. It would also require that all measures receiving sufficient signatures appear on the ballot and extend the time sponsors have to collect signatures, from less than half a year to one full year.
Legislators have three options for each initiative – pass it into law as is, take no action and send it to the ballot for a public vote, or send it and a legislative alternative to the ballot. The Legislature typically takes no action.