GMO Labeling Debate Centers on Trade

By Steve Jackson

 Washington lawmakers are deciding whether the state should label genetically modified food products. Such products, like corn, can have the genes of another plant or animal added to enhance nutrition or resist pests.  Some of the debate centers on concerns about the possible health impacts of genetically modified products, but there is a discussion related to trade as well.

Last year, a bill to label genetically modified foods, also known as GMO’s, failed to make it out of committee in the Washington legislature, even though the majority of a standing room only crowd testified in favor of the idea. This year, a signature campaign resulted in a legislative initiative being certified. 

Much of the debate has centered on consumers being allowed to know what’s in their food, as many people worry of the effects of products have been genetically modified. But there is also a trade issue.

As of yet, there are no genetically modified wheat strains on the market, but it will just a matter of time before they are developed.

Wheat grower Tom Stahl of Waterville says he worries that when they do come, there will be problems shipping any wheat from our region to many countries that do require such products to be labeled.

Stahl: “We in this state would be at great risk if a GMO wheat is introduced and it contaminated our lands our warehouses, our shipping facilities, and it could be sent back, because were going to source from other countries."

If the US fails to label genetically modified wheat, it may find all shipments of the grain eventually turned away from the 20 plus countries that currently require labeling.

Eric Meyer of the Washington association of wheat growers, says his organization is opposed to the state labeling proposal, mainly because they would prefer that the process be taken on a national level

Meyer: “You might find that one state would require labeling in delis, and another not in supermarkets, and there would be no consistency, that is our main concern.”

Meyer says for one thing, he believes GMO wheat is at least seven years from hitting the market, and he thinks Many markets that have restricted GMO foods are now starting to relax their stance.

Meyer: “The pacific rims countries are very sensitive to the issue, they are moderating their stance. I believe Japan had a zero tolerance policy on any GMO’s and now I understand there GMO’s papayas going in. There is a lot of time to be weighed here and we are so far out from having they yet.”

Meyer is correct that Japan has accepted it’s first GMO product, in the form of papayas, but those are labeled as such in that country.

Meanwhile, wheat grower Stahl says if the manufacturers of GMO products believe they are so safe, they should use that as a selling point, and support GMO labeling.

Stahl: “They would capitalize on that and say better living through Frankenstein genes, it’s going to be good for you, they would label it themselves."

This year's legislative initiative, unlike a voter initiative, can be enacted by the legislature, modified, or, if lawmakers fail to take action, it will then go to a vote of the people in the fall.

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