The Washington State Academy of Sciences released a report Wednesday about Initiative 522 that was commissioned by a bipartisan group of state legislators.
Initiative 522 would require labels on genetically engineered food sold in Washington grocery stores. The controversial issue has generated record-breaking campaign donations, and is also the subject of a TVW documentary.
More than 90 percent of the corn, soybean and cotton grown in the United States are genetically modified. About 70 percent of the processed food sold in grocery stores — such as soups, cookies and chips — contain genetically modified ingredients.
The report found that GMO foods are “safe given the current state of knowledge and evidence,” with no documented long-term health effects in scientific studies.
However, it called for “continued surveillance of long-term health effects” of both GMO and non-GMO foods. It noted that some scientific authors are concerned that most of the studies done on GMO food have been “short-term studies, mostly nutritional studies, with limited toxicological information.”
It found that GMO foods are “substantially equivalent” to non-GMOs, except for “golden rice.” The rice is engineered to producer higher levels of beta-carotene to prevent vitamin A deficiencies in developing countries.
While the authors of the report do not provide a dollar figure, they believe that food prices will increase if the initiative passes.
“Mandatory labeling, especially at a state versus federal level, is likely to affect trade and impose higher costs on firms producing and selling products in Washington. These costs are likely to be passed on to the consumer resulting in higher food prices,” the report said.
The campaigns involved in the initiative have contradictory claims about food prices. The No on 522 campaign funded a study that says that the initiative could cost a family of four an additional $450 a year. The Yes on 522 campaign cites a study from Emory University that found there would be no increased cost, or a cost as low as $2.20 per person a year.
Thomas Marsh of Washington State University is the co-chair of the committee that wrote the Washington State Academy of Sciences report. Marsh said in a press release that “the greatest costs are not in the labeling itself, but in the segregation and demonstration of GM-free status.”
Marsh said that the cost estimate varies widely because there’s no “after the fact” data, since no other state requires labels. Costs related to regulatory oversight, lab analysis and litigation are also “imprecise or unknown,” the report said.
You can read the full 30-page report here. The Washington State Academy of Sciences is a group of scientists and engineers that provide independent analysis for public policy makers. A group of three Republican and three Democratic state legislators requested the report.