The Executive Board of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the state, has voted to endorse Initiative 522, the state campaign to label genetically engineered foods.
By NICOLE GRANT
The Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO endorses Initiative 522 because everyone in our state deserves to know what is in their food before they buy it. I-522 would require foods such as breakfast cereals, chips and many other pantry staples to be labeled if they contain ingredients that have been genetically modified. The main reason that foods are genetically modified is so they can withstand exposure to pesticides and herbicides, chemicals that are known toxins.
The workers who are most vulnerable to the toxic exposure associated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are farm workers. For this reason, the United Farm Workers have taken a strong stance in favor of I-522. They are joined by the Washington State Nurses Association, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46, and dozens of other unions, environmental groups and sustainable businesses.
Many of the organizations that support I-522 stood up to support farm workers who told their stories about the horrors of pesticide exposure in Olympia last year at the hearing on HB 2413, legislation to protect people from dangerous pesticide drift. The stories of rashes, vomiting, respiratory distress and birth defects from exposure to aerial crop dusting were grotesque and sobering. Imagine your boss dumping tons of toxic chemicals on you and your children! I-522 will give consumers the chance to decide against genetically modified organism (GMO) products that require the intensified chemical use.
Chemical companies that are worried about their profit margins in Washington state have poured an unprecedented $17 million into the campaign to defeat I-522. The GMO industry is literally bringing to life what might sounds like science fiction. For instance, there is a current effort to bring a farmed salmon to market that reaches maturity in half the time of a natural salmon. This is done by splicing in eel genes! Frankenstein’s fish fry! Gross!
It should not be surprising that a company like Monsanto, the makers of Roundup, Roundup-ready GMO crops, and Agent Orange, opposes I–522. Now the Grocery Manufactures Association, a lobby group that represents companies like Nabisco, has pumped $5 million into the campaign to oppose I–522.
But while it is easy to demonize mega-corporations opposing the initiative, workers need to know that there are corporations supporting the initiative who do not respect the rights of workers. The big one is Whole Foods, a company that has made billions off of its national health food grocery chain while engaging in anti-union activities and suppressing organizing campaigns. In fact, the City of Seattle recently took action to stop Whole Foods attempt to build a new store in West Seattle because of their history of driving down area wages. Whole Foods’ support of I–522 is nothing but hypocritical because the initiative’s goal is increasing sustainability and well-being, values that are not compatible with Whole Foods union-busting and poverty wages. The morally authentic leaders of this movement are the progressive organizations and sustainable businesses, like Puget Consumers Co-op, that respect workers’ rights.
Brothers and Sisters across Washington, your ballot will arrive in a matter of weeks. Please vote “yes” on I–522! Consumers deserve to know whether their food has been genetically modified before they decide to buy it.
Nicole Grant is Executive Director of the Certified Electrical Workers of Washington and Vice President of the Washington State Labor Council, representing Washington Young Emerging Labor Leaders (WA YELL).
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