Washington voters rejected Initiative 522 at the polls by a considerable margin this past Tuesday. Initiative 522, a right-to-know law styled similarly to California’s Proposition 37 that was defeated last year, would have considered any food to be “misbranded” if it was entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering and did not bear a label disclosing this fact. The poll results show that the vote was 54.8% opposed to labeling and 45.2% in favor of it.
According to the Seattle Times, a record amount of money was raised on this issue—approximately $22 million—and most of it came in from outside the state. This shows that there is a strong national interest on the topic. Given this level of interest, Initiative 522 may prove to be a bellwether for future initiatives on GMO labeling initiatives.
The defeat of this anti-genetically modified organism (“GMO”) law is the second in as many weeks. In Hawai‘i on October 31, 2013, the mayor of the County of Kaua’i vetoed a local law that would have imposed a temporary moratorium on experimental use and production of GMOs, effectively banning continued cultivation of genetically engineered crops on the island. The law would also regulate the use of pesticides and the locations that they could be used.
The mayor’s veto resulted from a legal analysis suggesting that the law was unlawful on three basic grounds. First, the mayor concluded that the law would likely be preempted by federal and state law because these laws “occupied the field” of pesticide regulation and the local law would stand as an obstacle to accomplishing the full purpose and objectives of these laws. Second, the mayor believed that the law would constitute an invalid exercise of the County’s police power and it would designate certain farming operations as nuisances contrary to the Hawai‘i Right to Farm Act. Finally, the mayor indicated that the law would have improperly assigned a new function to an executive agency in violation of the County’s Charter.
The Kaua‘i County Council has 30 days from the date of the veto to override the veto, so the fate of this legislation remains unknown.
The fate of Bill 113 in Hawai‘i County is also unknown. As noted in a previous post, this proposed legislation would ban the open-air cultivation, propagation, development, or testing of genetically engineered crops or plants. The County Council did not get around to voting on the bill this past Tuesday, but it will have a second opportunity to do so on November 19.