2 November 2013, 05:53

'From 60% to 70% of food containing some type of GMO' - expert

'From 60% to 70% of food containing some type of GMO' - expert

"There are different estimates here for processed or packaged food. The estimates are anywhere from 60% to 70% of food containing some type of genetically engineered ingredient, whether that is GE sugar beets or soya, or corn or corn syrup. It really depends but, as I said, there are very few actual fruits and vegetables that aren’t genetically engineered," Elizabeth Larter, a Communications Director at Yes on 522 – the campaign working to ensure that genetically engineered foods are labeled in the state of Washington, told The Voice of Russia.

Taking into account that food giants are spending millions of dollars to prevent the labeling of GMO products, what are chances of your campaign to succeed?

This is going to be a close election. Recent public polls had Yes on 522 which would ensure labeling genetically modified food up. It is going to be close. We are still leading in the last couple of days. We’ll see what happens Tuesday night and as ballots are counted for the rest of the week.

Other than saying that this is going to raise the cost of groceries. And by the way, do you know how much of an increase we could actually see if initiative 522 if passed?

It is actually a false claim that the No campaigners make. And they actually bought and paid for the studies that are making claims that it is going to drive up grocery costs. Countries that label, including Russia and 63 other countries around the world that label genetically engineered food, their grocery costs didn’t go up by hundreds of dollars. So, there is really no real evidence that grocery costs will increase, I mean this is really about adding a bit more information that grocery shoppers can decide what they want to buy.

Is it that generally varying currently from state to state? I mean, there are probably different regulations as you go across the States? I’m just wondering, they say that this will have to make new labels for Washington. But is it the only instance when separate labels will have to be made for food products or beverage in a certain state?

That’s not necessarily true. Connecticut, Maine have passed labeling laws. They have not yet been enacted. They have triggered some other states to pass GMO labeling bills. Alaska actually passed the US’s first genetically engineered seafood labeling bill in 2005. So, I-522 would label any genetically engineered meat, salmon as well as in Alaska. For example, some states have bottle deposits other states don’t. But you’ll see on you Coke can or you bottle that it does pay 5 cent deposit if you live in one of these states. That doesn’t cost you really more money. This bit of information doesn’t confuse consumers, but if you happen to live in Oregon or any other state that does that, you can get your money back.

So, it is a bit disingenuous. This is part of an overarching campaign that opponents of labeling are running to try to confuse Washingtonian and American consumers because they just don’t want to have to label these foods.

What percent of food that is on the shelves today actually contains GOM products?

You know, there are different estimates here for processed or packaged food. The estimates are anywhere from 60% to 70% of food containing some type of genetically engineered ingredient, whether that is GE sugar beets or soya, or corn or corn syrup. It really depends but, as I said, there are very few actual fruits and vegetables that aren’t genetically engineered. More are likely to be approved soon. And so, for Washington State it will be important to label genetically engineered food because apples are a big export of our state’s economy and without labels we won’t know which apples have been genetically engineered and not. The same with salmon, we are not going to know which salmon has been genetically engineered without these labels.

Let’s talk about the health consequences. I know this is a very controversial topic as far as what damage eating genetically modified food can have in this generation and down the line. I’ve heard a lot of different things. What does your organization have to say or what information do you have about the health consequences of eating genetically modified food?

Everyone is coming in support of I-522 for a lot of different reasons. Some people might have health concerns. Some people are concerned about the fact that FTA doesn’t require safety assessments. Some people are concerned about the increases of pesticides and herbicides. Some people just want to know what is in their food. Like we get to know if our food has more sodium or salt – we know all those things, but we don’t know if our food has been genetically engineered. So, this is only just providing more information to all consumers and then you can make the best choice for yourself at a grocery store.

Do you think that it is possible to balance economic interests of food producers and the right of consumers to be informed about products that they buy?

Yes, I mean I think we see that. We have a large coalition of small, medium and large businesses, farmers, fishers, nurses, doctors, everyday citizens who are supporting this initiative because they want to live in more transparency. Some companies are on the frontlines. Some companies have taken the position, like certain companies that are part of the Grocery Manufacturers Association which was actually sued by our State’s Attorney General for illegally concealing its donors. There is going to be a major lawsuit to the No side’s number one donor. So, I think that really, it is a company by company choice and many other companies that are supporting us are fully transparent and believe in a fully transparent food system.

How many people are going to stop buying the GMO labeled food, what do you think?

I have no idea. This is really for providing information. Just like Washington State was the first state to label whether fish is farm-raised or wild-caught. There is a bill that we passed. That provides more information and yet farm-raised seafood and wild-caught seafood are labeled, they are still widely available today. And this is just, again, about providing more information to consumers.

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