Summary of Washington Initiative 522
Initiative 522 on the November 2013 Washington state ballot, if enacted, would require labeling of genetically engineered foods, as defined in the measure, on the packaging of raw agricultural commodities, processed foods, and seed and seed stock, or on retail shelf signage for unpackaged products.
Exemptions to these regulations would be provided under the measure. Violations of the labeling requirements would result in “misbranding” penalties of up to $1,000 per day. The Washington State Department of Health would implement the measure’s regulations, which may be enforced by the Attorney General or through a private right of action by citizens, as authorized by the measure. The measure would require food products offered for retail sale in Washington to be labeled “clearly and conspicuously” on the front of the package if they are, or may have been, entirely or partly produced with genetic engineering. Before July 1, 2019 any processed food would have to be labeled if the total weight of its genetically engineered contents exceeds a threshold of .9% of the product’s total weight. After that date, the threshold drops to 0%.
These labels would read “genetically engineered,” “partially produced with genetic engineering,” or “may be partially produced with genetic engineering,” depending on whether the product is a raw commodity or a processed food product. Individual ingredients are not required to be labeled.
- The following categories of food are specifically exempted from the measure’s labeling regulations: Raw agricultural commodities if the supplier provides “a sworn statement” saying that it has not been knowingly or intentionally produced through genetic engineering and has been segregated from foods that may have been genetically engineered.
- Processed food products if they were subject to labeling solely because they were produced using one or more genetically engineered processing aids or enzymes, such as yeasts or enzymes used in cheese-making.
- Alcoholic beverages.
- Animal products such as meat, milk and eggs if they were derived from an animal that itself has not been genetically engineered, regardless of whether the animal has been fed genetically engineered feed or injected with genetically engineered drugs.
- Any food that has been deemed free from genetically engineered material after sampling and testing by an independent organization.
- Certified organic foods.
- Unpackaged food offered for sale at a restaurant or other food service establishment that is intended for immediate human consumption.
- Unpackaged processed food prepared and intended for immediate human consumption.
- Medical food.
The measure would authorize the state Attorney General, or any private citizen, to file a legal suit against the supply chain, including seed producers, farmers, distributers, and retailers, for alleged “misbranding” violations. A private citizen needn’t be a consumer of the product in question, or be engaged in a business relationship with the accused in order to file suit. The party bringing such a suit would be eligible to be reimbursed for its legal fees; nothing is specified for the defense. The Department of Health may assess civil penalties of up to one thousand dollars per day for violations, with each day of violation considered to be a separate violation.