Most genetically modified foods are in processed foods like these, which fill an aisle at Albersons in Spokane, Wash. RNS photo by Tracy Simmons/Spokan Faith & Values

Most genetically modified foods are in processed foods like these, which fill an aisle at Albersons in Spokane, Wash. RNS photo by Tracy Simmons/Spokane Faith & Values


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

SPOKANE, Wash. (RNS) Grocery aisles in Washington state could look a little different in 2015 if voters approve a ballot measure on Tuesday (Nov. 5) to require product labels to disclose when genetically modified crops are included.

Most of the processed foods and beverages that dominate the shelves are made with some sort of genetically modified crop, like soy or corn.

Campbell Soup Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Kellogg Co. are among the companies pumping money into the fight against the referendum, known as Initiative 522, claiming the measure is misleading, would hurt farmers and raise grocery costs.

Proponents of the initiative, however, say it’s an ethical issue about giving consumers the right to know what they’re eating.

“What people want is labeling so they can have a choice about what they’re putting into their bodies. It’s their choice what’s healthy for them, and not somebody else’s,” said Ron Cully, a grass-roots activist for I-522.

Some researchers, however, say there’s no evidence that genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, pose health and safety risks.

Monsanto Co., a chemical and agricultural biotechnology company that opposes I-522, claims on its website that plants and crops with genetically modified traits have been tested thoroughly and there’s no credible evidence of harm to humans or animals.

Ellen Maccarone, associate professor of philosophy at Jesuit-run Gonzaga University, said there are both pros and cons to genetically modified foods.

Pro and con Initiative-522 signs are found in yards and along public streets in Spokane, Wash. Photo by Tracy Simmons/Spokane Faith & Values

Pro and con Initiative 522 signs are found in yards and along public streets in Spokane, Wash. Photo by Tracy Simmons/Spokane Faith & Values


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“If we were talking about golden rice in India preventing childhood vitamin A deficient blindness, that would be a pro. But generally here we are not talking about those things. The cons have to do with a wider set of issues about how food is grown, who has control over it, and how it is processed and how that affects health and the environment,” she said.

A similar initiative, Proposition 37, failed in California last year, but this summer Connecticut and Maine passed food labeling legislation, although those laws won’t take effect until other states pass similar measures. If the measure passes, Washington would be the first state to pass a mandatory food-labeling law for GMOs with no stipulations.

Maccarone said this shows that there’s a growing interest in consumers wanting to know where their food is coming from.

“The increase in farmers markets and the like indicate that people are thinking about food and the food economy differently than just a few years ago,” she said. “Food has always had a central role in people’s spiritual, ethical and cultural lives. Giving them information so they can do this with more integrity is something we shouldn’t be afraid of.”

(Tracy Simmons is the editor of Spokane Faith & Values.)

KRE/AMB END SIMMONS

The post Washington voters weigh the ethics of genetically modified foods appeared first on Religion News Service.

1 Comment

  1. I’m torn on GMO labeling. On one hand, I’m generally in favor of people having information. On the other, though, when people don’t understand the information, it can often do more harm than good, particularly in the face of deliberate fearmongering.

    49% of Americans think that GMO tomatoes have genes…and non-GMO tomatoes don’t. When half the country doesn’t even understand that every living thing HAS genes, how does giving them information about whether and how those genes were altered help them make better decisions, rather than worse?

    I think the desperate immediate need is not giving people more information that they don’t understand, but improving science literacy among consumers.

    The Stranger, Seattle’s alternative paper (arguably its only useful paper), came out against 522: “(Labeling GMO ingredients) on the front of the package, though, where virtually nothing else is required, while far more lethal ingredients are mandated only on the back, sends an entirely different message. That would call out GMOs in a way that’s dramatically out of proportion to the real risk, and far beyond what’s needed for consumer choice. That’s not about a right to know. It’s about fear. It’s misleading and it ought to be rejected.”

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