Apparently food safety is an Initiative 522 campaign issue as it’s come up in an important venue – the State of Washington voters’ pamphlet. In the official “Argument Against” I-522, representatives of the “No on 522” campaign state that 70-80 percent of groceries sold in the U.S. already include ingredients with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and major scientific and medical organizations. And, in the “Argument For” rebuttal statement, representatives of the “Yes on 522” campaign fire back by stating that no independent safety tests have been conducted by the government and pointing to the endorsement of I-522 by the Washington State Nurses Association, which favors labeling to “trace health issues.” Just mailed to 3.2 million voter households in Washington State by the Secretary of State, the voter’s pamphlet is the one chance campaigns have to send a message at taxpayer’s expense to every voter in the state. And, since the election is conducted entirely by mail, many Washington voters actually cast their ballots at their kitchen tables while browsing the voter’s pamphlet. In addition to providing voters with pro and con arguments, the Washington voter’s pamphlet gives voters an official fiscal impact statement for I-522, estimating the cost to taxpayers if enacted. It totals $3.368 million over six years, mostly for program development and then to conduct annual sampling and laboratory testing. The cost estimates from the Office of Financial Management are for the state’s expenses only. It notes that counties would experience increased revenue and expenditures from civil actions that might be filed to enforce the initiative’s requirements. The taxpayer costs would be in addition to higher food prices that may result from a new GMO labeling requirement. The two campaigns have produced dueling studies, and experts with the “Yes on 522” campaign maintain that new labeling wouldn’t have all that much effect on food prices, while the “No on 522” campaign insists that it will. In the voter’s guide, the “Yes on 522” committee representatives mainly make the argument that consumers have a right to know what’s in their food. “We should have a right to choose whether we want to buy and eat genetically engineered food,” they wrote. “Labels matter. They ensure transparency and preserve the freedom to make our own decisions about the food we eat. I-522 is a step in the right direction.” They point out that U.S. food companies already provide GMO labels on products they sell in 64 countries that currently require such labeling. The official pro-522 argument also states that GMO crops have contaminated conventional crops in the Pacific Northwest. It urges people to, “Vote for the right to know what’s in your food.” In their rebuttal, the “No” representatives state that the existing labeling system gives consumers an easy way to avoid foods with GMOs – buy “certified organic.” The “No” side states that I-522 is poorly written and, because it will not apply to food from foreign sources, it puts Washington State farmers and producers at a competitive disadvantage. October campaign finance reports from the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission show that both campaigns are sitting on war chests that will likely be expended on television and radio ads in the days ahead. The “Yes on I-522” campaign had raised $5.485 million and spent $857,688, leaving a balance of more than $4.6 million. The “No on 522” campaign has raised $17.16 million and spent $1.66 million, leaving cash on hand of almost $15.5 million. Largest contributors on the “Yes” side include Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and the Organic Consumers Fund, which have, respectively, kicked in $1.7 million and $380,000. For the “No” side, the big check writers are the Grocery Manufacturers Association ($6.75 million) and Monsanto ($4.83 million). Washington’s voter pamphlet also includes an “explanatory statement” provided by the attorney general’s office. It states that the director of the state Department of Agriculture “is authorized to condemn, seize and destroy misbranded or adulterated foods and food items.” But there are currently no state labeling requirements for generically engineered foods or seeds. The Washington Secretary of State publishes 18 editions of the Voter’s Guide to cover various geographic areas and languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese. A directory can be found here. Photo: Courtesy of Washington State’s Office of the Secretary of State.