A public hearing, held in February in Olympia, WA, saw a debate over the merits of Initiative 522, which would label all food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) sold in that state.

Legislators were reportedly treated to spirited back and forth: Proponents of the initiative argue that labeling GMOs allows consumers to make an informed choice in the grocery store, while opponents claimed that GMOs pose no health risk, and that consumers who wish to avoid them can buy organic.

Experts, activists and stakeholders in favor of GMO-labeling cited global action on the issue (more than 60 countries require labeling), while those against the measure claimed that higher food prices could result, and argued that labeling laws should be dealt with at the federal level. “We were told that DDT was harmless, that saccharin was harmless. We have a right to know what we’re eating,” supporter Patricia Michael told the Associated Press, which reported these descriptions of the hearing.

Following in the wake of the defeat of California’s similar Proposition 37 initiative, the necessary amount of signatures to begin a ballot initiative in Washington were gathered for Initiative 522, which were then verified by Washington’s secretary of state. Initiative 522’s GMO labeling requirement would take effect July 1, 2015 if passed by the state’s voters on the next general election ballot.

As an initiative sent to the state’s legislature, however, there are three possibilities before it ever reaches the ballot, according to the Washington secretary of state’s office: “1.The Legislature can adopt the initiative as proposed, in which case it becomes law without a vote of the people; 2.The Legislature can reject or refuse to act on the proposed initiative, in which case the initiative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election; or 3.The Legislature can approve an alternative to the proposed initiative, in which case both the original proposal and the Legislature’s alternative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election.”

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2013 (online 3/1/13)