Washington State Initiative 522 - The GMO Warning Label Battle Rages On
    By Hank Campbell | January 14th 2013 05:01 AM | 15 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Despite losing in the state with arguably the most anti-science crackpots in its citizenry - California - GMO activists in arguably the second most anti-science state - Washington - are determined to show the country why they should be number one.

    Unlike the initiative in California, which was the result of alternative medicine corporations outside the state hiring a prominent litigation lawyer to spearhead it, this one was started by the head of a small advertising agency. He's no dummy. California's Prop 37 was really one-sided in its funding early on, with snake oil peddlers like and Dr. Bonner's Magic Soap dwarfing the advertising budget of the farmers and grocery stores on the other side, but by election time an estimated $50 million had been spent promoting the pros and cons of the science and non-science sides. 

    So it makes sense that a business person in Washington might expect similar advertising money to flow toward the leader of  this new initiative, Chris McManus, who just happens to run an ad agency. In California, the author of Prop 37 was the same attorney who got rich suing under Prop 65 decades earlier so the business model is sound. Money can hurt or help the actual cause but for advertisers there can be no loser.  

    Wheat farmers in Washington state tried to get a similar initiative passed last year and they were at least honest about their motivations; none of that business about purity of food, it was about exports. GMOs are the great equalizer for countries that are not agriculturally rich like the United States. GMOs let poor people grow more of their own food and that means less of a market for western Europe and the United States.  The fact that Monsanto has not even begun testing genetically modified wheat and even once they do, it won't be available for 10 years, did not matter, they wanted current science banned and future science too.

    Despite claims by detractors that GMOs won't ever help people because evil corporations in their corporation-y buildings will make money, GMOs have been overwhelmingly shown to help poor people. The 'Domino effect' of more food at lower prices is well known also; Cheaper food means more wealth spent on other things and those other things are always literacy and culture.  Nations like India, that have embraced modern farming, have seen incomes shoot up 140%. There are environmental benefits to science that activists also disregard because it violates their meme about ecology. Yet America has had crop yields increase over 50% since I was in college - and is using 30% fewer emissions to do it.

    What is always surprising in these anti-science efforts is the hint of third world patronization that goes on. Greenpeace will say they care about the world while they insist Golden Rice is evil despite the evidence. It is a de facto war on poor kids who could go blind.

    Yet activists don't live in a world of science, they exist in a world of hyperbole and appeals to emotion - so naturally the folks in Washington delivered their 350,000 petition signatures to state officials in an ambulance, one that read "Label GMO Food" on the side. 

    Get it?? If you eat GM food, you will need an ambulance.

    Will this effort do any better?  Maybe, though once you get outside Seattle, people in Washington are pretty practical.  In Seattle, six kindergartens have vaccine exemption rates of over 20%, well below herd immunity levels.  But Washington overall only has 6.2% anti-vaccine people.  That sounds like a lot, I know, especially when you compare it to states that are more religious and therefore supposedly more anti-science, like Alabama(1) with its 0.5% exemptions, including for religious, philosophical or medical reasons. It means that once you leave Seattle people accept science a lot more, a similar trend in California's coastal versus inland demographics.

    Will this one work? Stay tuned.


    There are a couple of falacies here.

    1) That religion and science are mutually exclusive. Christians embrace science that has been proven empirically.
    2) That the treehuggers like Greenpeace are not religious. They most certainly are, and thier views about GMOs reflect it precisely. Having spent a fair amount of time several years ago I can confirm to you that these organizations are full of new age crystal gazers, homeopaths, neo-pagans, and worshipers of nature. They are serving those "gods" as expected - all non-natural things are bad, all science is questionable, etc.

    I didn't say they were mutually exclusive, I didn't say they were even remotely exclusive.  If you read it again, I debunk the notion that religious, right wing people are more anti-science than secular, left-wing people, though science media and bloggers try to make that claim all of the time.

    I certainly agree that some anti-science people embrace alternate religion just like they embrace alternate medicine - but at least alternate religion is harmless.
    This article is so lacking in scientific facts it is a joke. One of the spearhead leaders in the fight against GMO is herself a quantum physicist and approaches the whole issue from a scientific perspective (Vandana Shiva). Indian farmers are committing suicide because of GMO seeds and the false promises they were sold about them. There is no scientific evidence that GMO's are safe for human or animal consumption, but there are disturbing animal studies that show serious health effects of animals fed a GMO diet in similar proportions to the amount of GMO's in the average Americans diet (see studies by Dr Michael Antoniou, a molecular biologist at King’s College, London or studies by molecular biologist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini to name just a few scientist carry out scientific research on GMO's not funded by the makers of GMO's). I could write a whole book tearing holes in the statements made in this article but people learn better if they learn for themselves in their own time, so I suggest readers start by watching, reading and researching the work of Vandana Shiva and go on from there. You can start with this link

    One of the spearhead leaders in the fight against GMO is herself a quantum physicist and approaches the whole issue from a scientific perspective (Vandana Shiva)
    You are as wrong on this as you are on biology. She is a PhD in philosophy and her dissertation was on the philosophy that may exist in quantum physics.  That's the kind of error anti-science people make all the time.  She also equates farmers who use GMOs with rapists, so good job invoking an eco-feminist crackpot philosopher as your go-to science authority.
    Using Vandana Shiva as an 'appeal to authority' makes you look foolish, Research 101!.

    Were you discussing something she does indeed seem knowledgeable on such as the 'ecofeminist' movement I could see your point. To be honest, on such tripe I wouldn't have bothered to read the article or your letter.

    In the context of GMO's, truly weak sauce indeed.

    Nail meets hammer.

    Hank gets the smackdown!

    California's Prop 37 was really one-sided in its funding early on, with snake oil peddlers like and Dr. Bonner's Magic Soap dwarfing the advertising budget of the farmers and grocery stores on the other side, but by election time an estimated $50 million had been spent promoting the pros and cons of the science and non-science sides.

    Of which, I'm sure you only accidentally omitted, $45 million was on the 'No' side.

    It isn't relevant, unless you contend California liberal voters are just mindless sheep obeying every corporation that spends the most money - in which case I can't figure out why Exxon has not been named the Official Sponsor of California. Or why Republicans don't just spend money in the 5 most populated states and win every national election easily.

    What is relevant is that the pro-and con- money was spent on advertising - there is no loser when you own an advertising agency and get a controversial referendum on the ballot. The lawyer who created the initiative was only going to get rich after it passed, an advertiser gets rich in advance, whether it passes or not.  In that sense, I applaud him.  Yayyyyyy, capitalism.
    check out GMO Myths and Truths for a compendium of published, peer-reviewed scientific research demonstrating clear risks to human and animal health and the environment as a result of the widespread adoption of genetically engineered agriculture. These GMOs are in 80% of grocery products, yet evidence is building regarding long-term risks of GMOs and the increased amount of pesticides needed as insects and weeds grow resistant to the very pesticides the GMO seed companies sell. Did you know GMOs are in just about all conventional processed foods? Probably not, because they are not labeled. Visit Hank, you talk about science, but frankly, all this is is commentary, editorializing and trying to discredit those that favor the consumer's right to know what is in our food. Visit GMO Myths and Truths for some science on why this stuff is a risk. Thank you.

    Hi Hank,

    Thanks for re-opening this.

    I think you're confusing the Prop 37 and I-522 issue with your comments about anti-science crackpots (what was it you said about hyperbole?).

    California's Prop 37 and now Washington's I-522 -- which I'm proud to say I helped gather signatures for -- are about people's right to know what's in their food (and food they feed their children) and to make an informed decision based on that knowledge. You can't make an intelligent choice when information is being deliberately withheld from you. NOBODY is saying that GMOs will be banned in Washington if I-522 is approved. Your statement that "they wanted current science banned and future science too " is totally unfounded and off the mark.

    Even though I live near that hotbed of rabid anti-science fanaticism -- Seattle -- I think that science is great. (And wouldn't you think that folks in a big city like Seattle with all its colleges and universities, medical centers, technology, and companies doing business around the world would understand science better than farmers in Walla Walla?) Scientific method is a tremendous tool for learning how the world works and discovering the truth about things. The scientific issue in this debate is whether GMOs are safe for the environment overall, and whether GM foods are safe for people to eat, short-term and long-term. The question lends itself really nicely to scientific study, but I don't think it's been answered conclusively either way yet -- and until the safety issue is conclusively answered, I personally think these organisms that have been tinkered with on a very profound level shouldn't be released into the world. But again ... the ballot measures are just about labeling the stuff.

    Monsanto and other GM food producers don't want us to know what's in our food, and that has nothing to do with science ... it has to do with protecting their profits and trying to monopolize the food market. I don't know if you would trust Monsanto to tell the world "oh yes, we've found some serious problems in our long-term safety studies and out of our deep concern for the public's health and well-being we'll stop producing and marketing our GM corn and soy around the world." I wouldn't. The problem isn't science, it's how many sectors of the business world so often distort, manipulate and hide scientific findings to promote and protect their profits (that includes covering their ass against potential liability suits).

    All of us -- that even includes rabid, fanatical anti-science crackpots (like all those people in Seattle) -- have the right to make an informed choice about what we eat and not be forced to blindly swallow what unscrupulous profit-seeking companies want us to consume. That's what the ballot propositions are about, and you shouldn't drag the anti-science issue into the discussion. We might argue about this or that paragraph in the language of the propositions, but the core issue is people's right to know what they're putting inside their bodies. In California, Monsanto ... and General Mills, Smucker's, Con-Agra, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Kellogg's, and Hershey's... just to name a few ... shelled out millions of bucks not to protect science, but to keep people from knowing what they're eating.

    Hi again, Hank.

    Since I see this is still open ... and I just came across this interesting paper on the Union of Concerned Scientists web page ... I'm adding this link:

    It ties in with what I was saying about science above: science is great, it's corporations (like the ones who spent $45 million in California fighting Prop 37) trying to protect their profits that's the problem.

    Part of their article says:

    "Federal decision makers need access to the best available science in order to craft policies that protect our health, safety, and environment. Unfortunately, censorship of scientists and the manipulation, distortion, and suppression of scientific information have threatened federal science in recent years. This problem has sparked much debate, but few have identified the key driver of political interference in federal science: the inappropriate influence of companies with a financial stake in the outcome. A new UCS report, Heads They Win, Tails We Lose, shows how corporations influence the use of science in federal decision making to serve their own interests."

    So, again, do you think that Monsanto, General Mills, Hershey, Smuckers, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Kellogg's ... etc. ... spent all that money to protect the purity of science?

    Dialogue is good, thanks for the opportunity to post.

    Joe Tein

    The UCS is an advocacy group, they are run by a former journalist who was in advocacy then and found a much more fitting home. Putting 'science' in the name of something does not make it science. Let me turn your question around; in the early days of Prop 37 almost all of the funding was done by alternative medicine groups and organic food corporations - including the kind who insist that GMOs cause autism and that homeopathy is real.  So there is clearly a large swath of that marketplace that does not love science.  Why did all those rich companies outside California hire a lawyer famous for creating a referendum that did nothing but generate lawsuits about stickers in businesses - and the lawyer got rich suing after it was passed - all in the name of 'awareness'? 

    Do you think those companies spent millions of dollars because they love science and just want to increase public awareness? If so, why would you not think so highly of Monsanto? I can't find any ethical difference between a scientist controlled by the government and one controlled by Monsanto.  Why can you? And why can you not assume the worst about a guy who runs an advertising agency, when you know all of the tens of millions spent on Prop 37 went to ad agencies?

    I never said either said was interested in purity - but proponents of both sides claims they are.  I only defend the science and the science is all on the GMO side. 
    Hi again,

    "The facts are friendly." (This was said by Carl Rogers, the first psychologist who applied scientific method to the study of psychotherapy, back in the 1940s and 50s ... one of my heroes.)

    So ... the science on the GMO side: Could you post some references to the scientific studies that you're referring to? The scientific question, as I said in my first post, is whether consuming genetically modified food(s) is safe. "Safe" may be defined operationally in different ways in different studies, but I'm interested in reading valid studies that in one way or another prove that GM food is long-term safe in humans. More than one study please ... three would be a good minimum, five references would be really good to check out to get a better overall perspective of the science in this area.

    And then there are always considerations of the reliability of the authors, who sponsored the studies, what study results may have been suppressed, and all that ... but it would be good to see a representative sample of the scientific studies that you say support GMOs.

    I know there's that recent French study that purports to show that eating GM food is harmful ... but I think it was a badly designed study and can't really be trusted. I'm still trying to see if there are valid studies that show that GM foods are really harmful.

    And what's the name of this lawyer you mention above? I want to look him up, too.

    OK, Hank, you're a tough bargainer ... so I'll have to set my sights lower.

    How about ONE valid, respectable scientific study that shows that consuming genetically modified foods is safe for humans (I'll still hold out for a human study -- no rats or bunnies, please). And preferably not one of these 90-day jobs, unless that's the best you can find. But you said that the science is all on the GMO side, which implies there must be lots of these studies.

    So how about it ... a solid, controlled scientific peer-reviewed study that shows that there's no harm to humans consuming GM food or food containing GMOs, long-term??

    Thanks... looking forward to it!


    I am puzzled at why you are incapable of finding a single study that satisfied your criteria - it seems like you don't want to find one. If I asked you to find one article showing climate change is happening, and you could not do it, what would that tell us about you?  It's the same with GMOs or anything else. The way to get educated is to do the work, not to have things handed to you.  You can't debunk science unless you know how it works. I think, like former anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas, once you learn how science really works, you will be far more comfortable with the results.

    Gerhard Adam
    There are no such studies.  So, you won't find anything that specific, since "substantial equivalence" is the criteria being employed.

    Since newly introduced substances in foods derived using recombinant DNA techniques would be proteins, fats or carbohydrates, we then examined the safety questions that should be addressed before products reach the market. We identified four broad safety issues that should be evaluated: (consumption; (2) the need to ensure that the changes in the food, such as the level of natural toxins in the food, if any, stay within normal safe levels; (3) the need to ensure that significant nutrients stay within normal range; and (4) the need to analyze the potential for introduced proteins to cause allergic reactions. We incorporated these and other issues into a comprehensive guidance to industry that is central to our policy.

    The guidance in our policy statement provides a "standard of care" to help plant developers ensure that the products they develop meet the safety standards of the FD&C Act. It also provides guidance to industry on those situations in which developers should specifically consult with FDA on issues such as labeling, design of appropriate test protocols, and whether a food additive petition would be required.

    There is no need for, or value in testing the safety of GM foods in humans. So long as the introduced protein is determined safe, food from GM crops determined to be substantially equivalent is not expected to pose any health risks. Further, it is impossible to design a long-term safety test in humans, which would require, for example, intake of large amounts of a particular GM product over a very large portion of the human life span. There is simply no practical way to learn anything via human studies of whole foods. This is why no existing food--conventional or GM--or food ingredient/additive has been subjected to this type of testing.

    Mundus vult decipi