I-522 , State of Washington : Should we require labeling of genetically-engineered foods?

This measure would require most raw agricultural commodities, processed foods, and seeds and seed stocks, if produced using genetic engineering, as defined, to be labeled as genetically engineered when offered for retail sale.

Should this measure be enacted into law?

Long Description

Written by the Office of the Attorney General

The Law as it Presently Exists

In general, federal law regulates the safety and quality of food shipped between states, while Washington law regulates the safety and quality of food produced and sold within the state. Both federal and state law identify and regulate foods that are "misbranded" or "adulterated," but neither state nor federal law requires any specific labeling of foods produced using genetic engineering.

Under Washington law, the director of the state Department of Agriculture is authorized to condemn, seize, and destroy misbranded or adulterated foods and food items. Washington law defines food and food products as "misbranded" where labeling or packaging is false or misleading, and "adulterated" if they contain some added substance that is poisonous or harmful to health, or if they are contaminated, diseased, putrid, or otherwise unfit as food or injurious to health. State law imposes many specific labeling and packaging requirements and prohibitions for food and food products, but it does not require any specific labeling of genetically engineered foods. No provision of state law treats genetically engineered food as adulterated.

Washington law also authorizes the director of the state Department of Agriculture to stop the sale of mislabeled agricultural seeds, flower seeds, and vegetable seeds sold in Washington, and to condemn and seize the seeds if necessary. Seeds are considered to be misbranded if they are not accurately labeled in compliance with state law, but existing state law does not require that genetically engineered seeds be labeled as genetically engineered.

The Effect of the Proposed Measure, if Approved

The measure would impose labeling requirements on genetically engineered foods and seeds offered for retail sale in Washington. The measure defines "genetically engineered" to mean changes to genetic material produced through techniques that directly insert DNA or RNA into organisms or that use cell fusion techniques to overcome natural barriers to cell multiplication or recombination.

Beginning July 1, 2015, any food produced using "genetic engineering" that is not labeled as required in the measure would be considered "misbranded." The measure would require genetically engineered raw agricultural commodities to be labeled conspicuously with the words "genetically engineered," and genetically engineered packaged processed foods would have to be labeled conspicuously with the words "partially produced with genetic engineering" or "may be partially produced with genetic engineering." The measure would exempt the following foods from the labeling requirements: alcoholic beverages; certified organic foods; foods not produced using genetic engineering, as certified by an approved independent organization; foods served in restaurants or in food service establishments; "medical food"; and foods consisting of or derived from animals that have themselves not been genetically engineered, regardless of whether the animal has been fed any genetically engineered food; and processed foods produced using genetically engineered processing aids or enzymes. Processed foods containing small amounts of genetically engineered materials would be exempt until July 1, 2019.

Beginning July 1, 2015, the measure also would require that genetically engineered seeds and seed stock be labeled conspicuously with the words "genetically engineered" or "produced with genetic engineering."

The measure provides that its requirements are to be implemented and enforced by the state Department of Health, instead of the state Department of Agriculture, and would authorize the Department of Health to assess a civil penalty of up to one thousand dollars per day for each violation. The Department of Health, acting through the Attorney General, could bring an action in superior court to enjoin a person violating the measure. Separately, after giving sixty days notice, any private person could bring an action in superior court to enjoin a person violating the measure, and potentially recover costs and attorney fees for the action.

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Fiscal Impact Statement

Written by the Office of Financial Management

The initiative authorizes the Washington State Department of Health to adopt rules necessary to implement the initiative. Beginning July 1, 2015, the initiative allows the Department of Health, through the Attorney General, to bring an action to enjoin violations of the initiative's requirement that most raw agricultural commodities, processed foods, seeds and seed stocks, if produced using genetic engineering, be labeled as genetically engineered when offered for retail sale. Known state agency implementation costs are estimated at $3,368,000 over six fiscal years. State and local revenue and costs from enforcement activities are indeterminate.

General Assumptions

  • The fiscal estimates contained in this fiscal impact statement are based, in part, on assumptions about the scope and legal effect of the ballot measure should it be enacted by the voters. Such assumptions are not intended to represent legal interpretation or conclusions of law.
  • The initiative is effective Dec. 5, 2013. However, the initiative's labeling requirements begin July 1, 2015.
  • Estimates are described using the state's fiscal year (FY) of July 1 through June 30.

State Revenue Assumptions

The initiative would allow the Department of Health (DOH) to assess a civil penalty against any person violating the requirements of the initiative in an amount not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000) per day. Additional state revenue could be generated from filing fees for civil actions filed in county superior courts to enforce the initiative's requirements. As provided in RCW 36.18.025, 46 percent of county superior court filing fees must be remitted to the State Treasurer for deposit in the state general fund and 54 percent of fees remain with the county. There are no data to estimate the annual number of civil actions or civil penalties that may be generated. Therefore, the state revenue impact from the initiative is indeterminate.

State Expenditure and Cost Assumptions

DOH program development will include expenditures for rule making, inspection and compliance, as well as education and technical assistance to the food industry. The cost of these expenditures over six fiscal years is estimated at $2,168,000. Beginning July 1, 2015, DOH will contract with a private laboratory for product sampling and testing as required in the initiative. Total cost of this expenditure over six fiscal years is estimated at $1,200,000. The following table shows DOH estimated costs by fiscal year:

Fiscal Year 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 Costs
Program Development $82,000 $96,000 $210,000 $210,000 $210,000 $210,000 $1,018,000
Rule Development $96,000 $122,000 $0 $0 $0 $0 $218,000
Compliance and Enforcement $0 $0 $239,000 $300,000 $300,000 $300,000 $932,000
Laboratory Sampling and Testing $0 $0 $300,000 $300,000 $300,000 $300,000 $1,200,000
Total $178,000 $218,000 $749,000 $741,000 $741,000 $741,000 $3,368,000

Local Revenue, Expenditure and Cost Assumptions

Counties may experience increased revenue, expenditures and costs from civil actions filed in county superior courts to enforce the initiative's requirements. There are no data to estimate the annual number of civil actions that may occur. Therefore, the fiscal impact on counties from the initiative is indeterminate.

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Resources curated by Seattle Public Library

Responsible Choices Washington: I-522 articles

Responsible Choices is a non-partisan organization which has a number of articles about the funding, support and impact of I-522.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Questions & Answers on Food from Genetically Engineered Plants

Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) FAQs provide brief answers to common questions about Food from Genetically Engineered Plants.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Guidance for Industry: Voluntary Labeling Indicating Whether Foods Have or Have Not Been Developed Using Bioengineering; Draft Guidance

Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) draft guideline for labeling whether foods have or have not been developed using bioengineering. This was distributed for comment purposes.

GMO Answers

Basic information about GMOs funded by the Council for Biotechnology Information, whose members are crop biotechnology and agricultural companies. Includes information about genetic modification of crops and an extensive Q & A section moderated by scientists.

American Medical Association: Labeling of Bioengineered Foods

Report 2 of the Council on Science and Public Health reviews the potential adverse health effects of bioengineered foods, and implications for labeling foods containing genetically-engineered ingredients.

Yes on 522 Committee campaign website

Campaign website for the coalition in support of I-522.

NO on 522 Coalition campaign website

Campaign website for the coalition against I-522.

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Supporters
Opposers
Top Pros
  • Labeling is good practice to improve transparency that benefits consumers
  • Reasons to vote YES: 1) Labels ensure transparency and preserve the freedom to make our own decisions about the food we eat 2) full disclosu
  • Genetic Modification has been shown to benefit large Agribusinesses like Monsanto that use it create monopolies and hurt family farms
  • Transparency is critical. What are the GMO producers trying to hide?
Top Cons
  • There's no evidence GMOs have negative health effects, and labeling will only harm an innovation that has already saved millions of lives.
  • Farmers have genetically modified crops for thousands of years. Science has only accelerated this process of making our food more resilient
  • GMO labeling is a distraction. We should concentrate on pesticide use and the prevalence of antibiotics in our meat supply
  • Reasons to vote NO: 1) only applies to WA state farmers, but exempts meat and dairy, 2) increases taxpayer costs and expands state bureaucra