Washington Senate Panel Hears Debate On GMO Labeling

By Steve Jackson

A Washington State Senate Committee heard testimony last week regarding the state initiative that calls for labeling genetically modified foods.

Initiative 522 would require that consumers be told if any food product contains GMOs -- genetically modified organisms. Many foods can be engineered by taking genes from other organisms. Examples are to make crops resist pesticides, or animals grow larger.

Although 60 countries require such labeling, the US does not.

The Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee heard from several panelists both in favor and opposed to the labeling requirement.

Michael Hanson is a scientist at Consumers Union, who has worked on GMO issues for several years. He says there are health concerns linked with GMO products, including introduction of new allergens, as well as increased levels of toxins, or changes in nutritional value.

Even so, Hanson says there is no government safety testing of products before they are allowed on the market, but rather, the companies that produce GMOs are allowed to do the testing.

He cited a genetically modified salmon product where he believes follow up studies should have taken place:

“A study using serum from people allergic to Atlantic salmon showed a highly statistically significant increase in allergenic potency of the engineered salmon compared to the non-engineered salmon," Hanson said. "Yet the FDA choose to disregard this finding, o=concluding from data on just six fish that there are no allergy concerns. This is not scientifically defensible. One big problem with safety assessments of GE foods is there have been virtually no long-term studies of animal feeding, with most studies being ninety days or less."

Proponents of GMO labeling say consumers should have a right to know which food products have been genetically modified.

Those opposed to GMO labeling included Rob McGuire with the Law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, which represents a trade association with the with the biotech industry.

McGuire testified that labeling GMO foods will be a big benefit for trial lawyers:

“This will result in my plaintiffs in the trial bar trolling grocery stores and seed stores looking for business," he said. "They can file suits themselves; a client is a mere formality in these sorts of mechanisms. And it will drive up the costs to businesses that’ll be faced with expenses, and the cost will be passed to consumers as higher food prices.”

The GMO labeling requirement would not apply to foods sold in restaurants, or to food from animals that have been fed GMO products.
If Washington lawmakers take no action on the GMO labeling Initiative, it will go to a vote of the people in November.

If the Legislature chooses to modify the measure, then both the original and the modified version will appear on the ballot.

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Credit goes to TVW for the audio from the hearing we used in this story.

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