Five myths about I-522: Setting the record straight
This article was originally published in November 2013
Here are some myths you may have seen and heard from the “No on 522” campaign about I-522, the People’s Initiative to Label Genetically Engineered Foods — and how they distort the facts.
1. Myth: I-522 has too many exemptions
Fact: I-522 was written carefully to conform to the Code of Federal Regulations on Food Labeling (Title 21), which precludes labeling any processing aids, alcohol, medical foods and restaurant foods. In other words, I-522 exempts foods exempted under federal laws.
If I-522 included these exempted categories, it would violate federal law.
See CFR 21, PART 101, Subpart G — Exemptions From Food Labeling Requirements.
Alcoholic beverages, in fact, aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration but by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which does not require products to bear nutrition labeling.
It’s extremely misleading for the “No” side to claim 70 percent of foods would be exempt, because they consider alcohol a food and include everything already exempted by federal law, such as restaurant foods.
2. Myth: Pet food would be labeled but not meat for people
Fact: I-522 was written to label food for human consumption. See Section 1(18) of I-522: “The purpose of this chapter is to ensure people are fully informed about whether the food they purchase and eat was produced through genetic engineering so they may choose for themselves whether to purchase and eat such food.”
Unless “No” side folks are eating pet food, this claim is a ridiculous fabrication to confuse voters and instill doubt.
3. Myth: I-522 would require inaccurate labels
Fact: The “No” side claims sugar and cooking oils shouldn’t be labeled because genetically engineered (GE) proteins are removed during refining.
The truth is, more than 90 percent of canola and sugar beets are produced through genetic engineering and they should be and would be labeled under I-522.
GE sugar contains much higher levels of pesticide residues. The Environmental Protection Agency increased the level of pesticide residues on sugar beets from 0.2 parts per million (ppm) to 10 ppm. That’s a 5,000 percent — a 50 fold — increase in the amount of weed killer residues allowed in the beet used to make sugar. (Source: Federal Register April 14, 1999.)
Shoppers should have a right to know whether foods use GE sugar with higher pesticide levels.
4. Myth: I-522 would hurt farmers with “zero tolerance”
Fact: There’s no language in I-522 for “zero tolerance.” There’s no testing required — and no threshold for rejection of products. So there’s no “level” to worry about.
I-522 is about intent, a term with legal standing in federal laws. If someone “knowingly and intentionally” uses GE products, they have to label.
The “safe harbor” clause in I-522 protects farmers and anyone else in the food supply chain from liability.
For example: A farmer pays for what the supplier says is non-GE seed, but the seed turns out to contain GE materials. Under I-522, the farmer is not liable, as long as he has his sales receipt, which any good farmer keeps anyway. The seed supplier is liable for mislabeling.
The Washington State Farmers Markets Association, the Young Farmers Coalition, the Sustainable Food and Farming Network, Slow Food Land and Sea, and hundreds of family farmers — including farmers who grow GE crops — support I-522. See: yeson522.com/endorsements.
5. Myth: I-522 will increase the cost of food
Fact: What voters need to know is that the “No” campaign bought and paid for their cost studies.
There’s no evidence of food cost increases in 64 countries where labeling is required, so the “No” side had to pay the Washington Research Council, a conservative think-tank, to say what they wanted it to say!
An independent study by the Alliance for Natural Health also found I-522 will not cause any significant increase in food costs.
Food manufacturers change their labels all the time, every year or so, without raising food costs.
Farmers already are paying the cost of not labeling. When experimental GE wheat was found in a Northwest farm field, Japan and Korea suspended purchases and prices for Washington wheat fell 60 cents per bushel. Buying has resumed, but prices for farmers have not rebounded, at all.
Farmers also now have to pay brokers new fees for testing. These are real costs from not labeling.