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Updated Friday, January 4, 2013 at 04:31 PM

Initiative to require labeling GMO food to be submitted

By Melissa Allison
Seattle Times business reporter

A legislative initiative that would require food companies to label products containing genetically modified organisms is set to be filed Thursday with the Secretary of State's office in Olympia.

A similar measure was defeated by California voters last fall in a battle that pitted big and small businesses against each other. Monsanto, Nestle, Hershey and others raised $46 million seati.ms/WiZ8RC against organic food companies and other groups, which raised $9.2 million.

The big businesses argued that labeling would raise food prices and hurt farmers.

Proponents of the measure said big business won by spreading disinformation (seati.ms/VDGs0f), including saying in the California Official Voter Information Guide that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics considers biotech foods to be safe.

The academy repudiated that claim on its website, seati.ms/WsjnNm, saying it had no position on the California measure.

"Here we go, Round 2," said the Washington initiative's sponsor, Chris McManus, who owns a small advertising firm in Tacoma. "They got us the first time in Cali, but we're stitched up, greased up and ready to go."

People who want to label foods with GMOs say the products raise health concerns, in part because the inserted DNA sometimes comes from animals, bacteria and viruses, not plants.

They also are concerned that GMO plants can cross-pollinate onto non-GMO farms, creating crops that are genetically modified even though farmers may not want them to be and may have trouble marketing them.

McManus told the Secretary of State's Elections Division staff that he plans to submit about 340,000 signatures at his 1 p.m. appointment Thursday.

That comes right after Tim Eyman's appointment to file signatures for a legislative initiative that would tweak the initiative procedure itself by, among other things, adding six months for signature gathering and setting penalties for interfering with or retaliating against signature-gatherers and petition-signers.

At least 241,153 valid signatures must be submitted for an initiative to be certified.

The Secretary of State's office expects to have a decision by the end of the month about whether the GMO labeling initiative has enough valid signatures to be certified.

Unlike voter initiatives, legislative initiatives go first to the Legislature, which can enact, reject or modify them. They typically do not enact them directly.

Modified initiatives are sent to the ballot in two forms, the original and the legislature's alternative.

The campaign for the GMO labeling initiative raised almost $324,000 to help gather signatures, including roughly $100,000 from Seattle-based PCC Natural Markets.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @AllisonSeattle.


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