Do you know what you are eating?

By Elsa Schmitz, Opinion Editor


This November, Washington state voters have the chance to determine whether or not food companies will be required to label foods and food products that have been genetically modified.

Genetically modified foods and food products, according to the World Health Organization, are “foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally.” Most of the products that have been modified are plants, according to the World Health Organization. These plants have been treated to create characteristics that include a stronger tolerance to pesticides, improved yield and a stronger resistance to plant diseases.

Why is this initiative important? Students at Eastern Washington University may not believe that the effects of the Washington Initiative 522 will have an impact on them. However, there are a few important questions that should be addressed before voters mark up their ballots for or against I-522.

First, what sort of foods and food products will I-522 cover? According to Yes on I-522, the campaign that pushed for the introduction of the initiative, some examples of food that would require labels under the initiative include, “sweet corn, papaya, cold cereals, corn chips, soy milk, canola oil, soft drinks and candy.” These foods would only require labeling if they were genetically modified or contained genetically modified ingredients.

Meat and dairy products also fall under the labeling requirement if the animals that produced the products were genetically engineered themselves, rather than if they only ate genetically engineered feed, according to Yes on I-522. Genetically engineered salmon would also fall under the initiative requirements.

The opposition to this initiative, Vote No on I-522, has called this method of labeling arbitrary. “I-522 would not even give consumers a reliable way of knowing which foods contain [genetically engineered] ingredients and which don’t.” said the Vote no on I-522 website.

If this initiative were to pass, perhaps students could take into consideration the ways in which genetically modified foods are labeled. While it appears that the initiative has clear-cut rules for how foods are supposed to be labelled, it is true that there is some vagueness about what and how labels should be applied to foods.

Second, what impact will this initiative have on food prices, and in turn, on the cost of tuition for students?

The opposition to the initiative claims that with the passing of the initiative, the cost of manufacturing and growing food will rise, and thus the price of the food of itself will rise. This is important for students because this may impact the price of food on campus. The cost of living on campus includes a meal plan given by the school. If this initiative passes, then would the cost of living on campus also increase? The students who live off campus would also be impacted by the rising food costs in grocery stores.

Third, should EWU itself be held responsible for labeling genetically modified food and food products that it produces on campus?

If I-522 passes, it would be logical to think that Eastern Washington University would be required to label genetically modified food and food products on sale by the school. This would include items for sale in Baldy’s, ingredients used for the buffets in Main Street Dining and in the Tawanka Beverage, Bakery and Bistro and at other dining locations on campus.

Dining services declined to comment on the matter.

Robin O’Quinn, advisor for plant sciences in the biology department, is for I-522. According to O’Quinn, “If you have used the genetically modified product, then that you should disclose.”

The idea behind this is that as a consumer, a person has a right to choose between something that may be healthy or unhealthy for them. Though it isn’t clear whether or not there are ill-effects that come from genetically modified food, by labeling the content, consumers are able to make an informed choice. “It places the responsibility of your health to you.” said O’Quinn.

Students have a right to know what is in their food. Labels that clearly show that a food has been genetically modified or made with genetically modified material can help a student decided whether or not they want to choose that item to eat. If it is later ascertained that genetically modified foods cause ill effects within consumers, then consumers would have the choice to buy that item or choose something else to eat.

Students would be affected in a similar way. Suppose campus began labeling genetically modified foods, and it was determined that genetically modified foods cause serious stomach upset. The student would have all the resources available to them to make an informed decision. However, if genetically modified foods were not labelled but still caused the same effect, students would not be able to make an informed choice about what they are choosing to eat.

It appears as though the benefits that come from labeling genetically modified foods outweigh the possible drawbacks that are proposed by the opposition to I-522. Labeling these products suggests a transparency in the food industry that is imperative to allowing consumers to make informed decisions regarding their own health.

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