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Originally published Friday, February 1, 2013 at 3:16 PM

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Food-labeling initiative gets enough signers to go forward

A proposal to require labeling of genetically modified food has gathered enough signatures to qualify as a legislative initiative, the secretary of state said.

Seattle Times business reporter

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A legislative initiative that would require companies to label genetically engineered foods has received enough signatures to move forward, the Secretary of State’s Office said Friday.

Initiative 522, sponsored by Chris McManus, owner of a small advertising firm in Tacoma, has been forwarded to the Legislature.

Unlike voter initiatives, legislative initiatives go first to the Legislature, which either can do nothing, enact them or modify them. Lawmakers typically do not enact initiatives directly.

If the Legislature does nothing, which is common, I-522 will go on the November ballot for a public vote. If the Legislature modifies the measure, then both the original and the modified version will appear on the ballot.

A measure similar to I-522 was defeated by California voters last fall. In that high-pitched battle, labeling proponents raised $9.2 million against $46 million from opponents, which included Monsanto, Nestle, Hershey and others.

People who want to label foods containing genetically engineered ingredients (or GMOs, for genetically modified organisms) say the products raise health concerns, in part because the engineering sometimes includes DNA from animals, bacteria and viruses, not plants.

They also are concerned that GMO plants can cross-pollinate onto non-GMO farms, creating crops that are genetically modified. The labeling proponents say farmers in that situation may not want such crops and may also have trouble marketing them to foreign countries, many of which do not allow GMOs.

Monsanto and others argued in California that labeling would raise food prices and hurt farmers, and that there is no proof GMOs are harmful.

The I-522 campaign turned in 353,331 signatures, and a random sample estimated 17 percent were invalid. It required 241,153 valid signatures to qualify.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312

or mallison@seattletimes.com.

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