OLYMPIA, Wash.—“People have the right to know what they’re eating,” said Maralyn Chase, the Washington state senator who is sponsoring a bill that would require the labeling of foods that contain genetically engineered (GE) materials, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
GMOs are “the result of a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal,” according to the Institute for Responsible Technology. Currently there are no federal laws in the United States that require GMO foods to be labeled as such.
Chase has been working on this issue for many years and believes requiring labels on GE food is about the “question of transparency and accountability,” and that people want to know what is in their food.
The bill states that by July 2014, all genetically engineered raw foods must be clearly labeled with the words: “genetically engineered,” and processed foods must include a label that states that the product may contain genetically engineered ingredients, and name these ingredients on the label.
In the spring of 2011, Eastern Washington farmers brought a petition containing 1,200 signatures to the Legislature, calling for labeling of GE foods. Tom Stahl, a wheat farmer in Waterville, Wash., who spearheaded the petition, is passionate about getting labels on foods produced using GMOs.
Partnering with other local farmers he helped create the “Committee to Save Farm Markets,” and the group has sent petitions to U.S. Congress and local state representatives for the past few years. They have often been met with silence.
Stahl says that tests done on animals show that GMOs are a danger to health, but there still haven’t been enough in-depth studies of the effects on humans, which concerns people. “The more people learn about GMOs, the less they like them,” says Stahl.
Big agricultural companies like Monsanto, owner of the majority of GMO crop seeds, are driving the production of GMO foods, according to Stahl. The major GMO crops are soy, corn, cotton, and sugar beets.
The majority of wheat that is grown in the United States is sold to East Asian countries, especially Japan, says Stahl. He is concerned that local wheat farmers could lose their foreign market if GMO wheat is sold to Asia, because Japanese millers and bakers have explicitly stated in conversations that they will not accept GMO wheat from the United States.Another Washington state official, Rep. Cary Condotta, is also supporting a similar bill that also requires labels on GMO foods. Sen. Chase said that bills may be combined in the future as the legislative process unfolds.