Guest editorial: I-522 gives shoppers a choice

Published on Wed, Oct 9, 2013 by Randy Hartnell

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For more than 20 years I worked as a fisherman based here in Bellingham. I know what it’s like to be out on a boat for weeks on end to get the best catch of wild salmon that nature has to offer. But our wild salmon is at risk. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is close to approving genetically engineered farmed salmon. The addition of “anti-freeze” DNA from other species allows GE Atlantic salmon to grow year round and nearly twice as fast, according to the developers. If approved, genetically engineered salmon will be the first genetically engineered animal approved for human consumption. 

While many grocery stores in Washington have said they won’t sell genetically engineered salmon, how will we know if the salmon we buy is genetically engineered or not unless it has a label on it? Just like we label salmon as farm-raised or wild-caught, we deserve the right to know if our salmon is genetically engineered or not. 

This is what Initiative 522 (I-522) does. It is a simple, common sense measure that will label food that has been genetically engineered, like salmon. It would also label food that has been produced with genetic engineering, like cold cereals, soda pop and candy. It is just a couple of words added to the package and then you, the grocery shopper, get to decide if you want to buy it or not. That’s it. I-522 is about empowering grocery shoppers with the information they need to make the best decision for themselves. 

As grocery shoppers, I bet you’ve stopped and read a label from time to time. I know I do. Labels matter. Whether you’re concerned about the level of sugar or sodium, if it has artificial or natural flavoring, or even if it was processed in a facility with nuts and dairy, labels tell us important information about our food. As grocery shoppers, we have the right to know this information. We also have a right to know if our food was genetically engineered or not.

This fall, opponents of labeling – funded by five out-of-state corporations – will try to make this measure seem costly and confusing. As the president and founder of Vital Choice Seafood, I update my packaging all the time. It doesn’t increase our pricing. I plan for that as part of my basic operating costs. Adding a couple of words to food packaging isn’t going to increase your grocery bill. As grocery shoppers, we see new labels and packaging all the time but the cost of our favorite cereal is still the same. This is the same principle.

Secondly, our opposition, primarily funded by a Washington, D.C. lobbying group for the big food companies, is attempting to claim I-522 is confusing. It isn’t. I-522 was written to conform to common labeling standards. Just like your local pizzeria doesn’t have to label all of the ingredients and nutritional content, I-522 doesn’t require labels at restaurants. When you buy your groceries, though, you see the ingredients and nutritional content for a frozen pizza. I-522 would simply require that a small bit of information be added to the package so grocery shoppers know if that frozen pizza was produced with genetically engineered ingredients.

Don’t fall for opponents of labeling false claims. Initiative 522 is not costly, confusing or 

arbitrary. It is about giving grocery shoppers the freedom to choose when buying their groceries. More than 60 other countries already have a GMO labeling requirement, including Russia, China and Japan. Shouldn’t we?

This November, I urge you to vote Yes on Initiative 522. Let’s give all Washingtonians access to more information about the groceries we buy and feed our families. 

Randy Hartnell is a former salmon fisherman, and the president and founder of Vital Choice Wild Seafood & Organics. He is a fourth generation Whatcom County resident and supporter of Yes on 522.

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