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Originally published Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 3:58 PM

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Guest: Vote yes on I-522 to require labeling GMO food

Initiative 522, which would require labeling of genetically modified food, would allow us to make informed choices about what we eat, according to guest columnists Andrew Stout and Luke Esser.

Special to The Times

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IN our wired community, we count on easy access to reliable information to make many important decisions in our lives. In the grocery store, we are able to make informed decisions about whether to buy groceries with natural or artificial flavorings, or fish that was farm-raised or wild-caught, because these products are labeled in these ways.

But we currently lack critical information about our groceries because we don’t know which products contain genetically engineered ingredients and which do not. Initiative 522, which voters will decide in the Nov. 5 election, would solve this problem by labeling foods processed with genetic engineering, enabling shoppers to make informed decisions for themselves and their families.

For more than 20 years we have all benefited from labels on food sold in grocery stores that furnish nutritional information, country of origin and a list of ingredients. These labels have provided useful information to shoppers without increasing grocery prices or harming farmers, food processors or grocery stores. I-522 will have the exact same results.

Washington state has a strong commitment to transparency and has been a leader in providing more information to shoppers. We were the first state to require labels to indicate whether our fish were farm-raised or wild-caught.

But we still lack full transparency in our food system. Whether you are comfortable with buying groceries produced with genetic engineering or not, we all deserve to know the truth about the food we buy for our families. It’s not right to deny us this important information.

This fall, opponents of labeling — primarily funded by six out-of-state corporations that reap substantial profits from genetic engineering — will try to make I-522 appear costly. It isn’t.

Currently 64 countries label for genetically engineered ingredients, and there is no evidence that labeling increased their food costs. American food companies constantly change packaging without increasing prices. Don’t believe the opponents’ erroneous claims. I-522 will not cost you more at the grocery store.

Secondly, opponents of labeling are attempting to claim I-522 is confusing. It isn’t. I-522 follows the same food-labeling framework that has been in place for more than 20 years.

A frozen pizza bought in a grocery store today contains labels with nutritional information while a pizza from your local pizzeria does not. I-522 doesn’t change that. The truth is that the opponents of labeling want to keep you in the dark about grocery ingredients and are spending millions to oppose I-522 and other labeling efforts.

Lastly, opponents of labeling claim it will hurt farmers. As a grower and the founder of Full Circle, Andrew knows that I-522 would not hurt farmers. By labeling, we can make our crops more marketable to our trading partners, better serve all of our customers and protect our bottom line.

Farmers would grow the crops consumers demand, and labeling would allow growers to cater to their market while insuring that all markets remain open for business. I-522 provides the protection Washington farmers need both here and abroad, especially in the 64 other countries that already require labeling of genetically engineered foods and crops. I-522 is a win for every Washingtonian.

Don’t be fooled by the false claims from opponents of labeling. I-522 is not costly, confusing or arbitrary. It will not hurt farmers. I-522 is about providing shoppers the freedom to make their own decisions when buying their groceries. Concealing information from consumers is bad public policy and should be stopped.

Let’s give everyone in the state more information about the groceries we buy and feed our families. Vote yes on I-522.

Seattle resident Andrew Stout is the founder of Full Circle and has been an organic farmer for over 15 years. Luke Esser is a former chairman of the Washington State Republican Party and a former state senator.

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