Labor backs Washington measure to label GMOs

Labor organizations in Washington are endorsing a statewide ballot initiative that would require labeling of genetically engineered foods starting July 1, 2015.

YesOn522I-522, on the Nov. 5 ballot, would require food offered for retail sale in Washington be labeled “genetically engineered” if it contains genetically engineered foods. That’s the law in 64 other countries, but in the United States, consumers are usually in the dark about whether the foods they buy contain genetically-engineered ingredients.

“We really need to know what we’re eating,” said Painters Local 10 President Roben White, a Vancouver resident who is active in the campaign to pass I-522.

Unlike traditional techniques of plant breeding like hybridization, genetic engineering involves the insertion into plants of genetic material from other plants, animals, bacteria, and viruses — combinations that cannot occur in nature. Most genetically engineered crops are designed to withstand herbicides and pesticides, and I-522 backers say that’s resulting in increased use of those toxic chemicals. Herbicide-resistant weeds have emerged, infesting farms and roadsides, and complicating weed control for farmers and encouraging use of increasingly toxic and more dangerous herbicides. Herbicides can damage soil vitality, contaminate drinking water, and pose health risks to consumers and farmworkers.

Worker safety is one reason unions have come out in favor of the labeling initiative. At the July 2013 convention of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, delegates passed a resolution of support for I-522 in part because farm workers and their families are sickened by exposure.  Other labor organizations have endorsed the initiative, including Inland Boatman’s Union (IBU), Puget Sound Region; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) locals 46 and 76; International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 52 and the ILWU Puget Sound Regional Council; United Farm Workers; and the Washington State Nurses Association.

On the other side, chemical companies have poured $17 million into the campaign to defeat the measure, including $4.2 million from Monsanto and $3.2 million from Dupont Pioneer. Opponents are outspending supporters by about four-to-one.

Ballots are scheduled to be mailed out Oct. 18, and must be postmarked on or before Nov. 5 to be counted.

If the initiative passes, Washington would be the first state in the nation to pass implement such a measure. California voters narrowly rejected a similar measure last year after a $46 million campaign by opponents.

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