Update: Washington voters reject genetically modified foods measure

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c. 2013 Religion News Service

SPOKANE, Wash. (RNS) Voters in Washington state on Tuesday (Nov. 5) rejected a ballot measure that would have required foods that contain genetically modified ingredients to be clearly labeled.

Initiative 522 would have required product labels to disclose when genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are included in grocery store items. The measure appears to have failed by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.

Washington is a mail-in ballot state and not all ballots have yet been counted. As of Wednesday, almost 1 million ballots had been counted, representing about a quarter of the state’s 3.9 million registered voters.

Despite the apparent defeat, the Yes on 522 campaign remained hopeful.

“For now, results are too close to call,” the campaign stated on its website. “Heading into Election Night, Yes on 522 led in the polls, despite being outspent 3-to-1. The campaign remains confident that a majority of Washington voters support labeling of genetically engineered foods.”

Advocates of the initiative describe it as an ethical issue, saying that consumers deserve to have the information. Opponents said the measure was too clumsy and would instill fear in shoppers by providing inaccurate, inconsistent and incomplete information.

The No 522 campaign raised $22 million — mostly from the food and biotech industry — making it the highest-grossing ballot initiative campaign in Washington history. The Yes campaign raised $7 million.

Last year, California voters shot down a similar initiative, Proposition 37. Connecticut and Maine have passed food labeling legislation, but those laws won’t take effect until other states pass labeling measures. Washington would have been the first state to pass a mandatory food-labeling law for GMOs with no stipulations.

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