Bioengineered wheat outlook brightened by Washington vote

by Josh Sosland
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As grain-based foods contemplates a possible future with bioengineered wheat, no issue looms larger as a worry than prospective consumer acceptance of baked foods after biotech wheat comes to market. While the vast majority of consumers have not expressed concern about so-called G.M.O. foods, the fear has been that all this could change if mandatory labeling of foods incorporating this technology was imposed.

So it was good news last week when Washington voters handily defeated a measure that would have required labeling of foods with bioengineered ingredients. Early returns indicated the measure failed by a sizable 10 percentage point margin. Interestingly, voter turnout was a measly 25%, suggesting that despite heavy media spending, the issue is not one that energizes the public.

G.M.O. labels are viewed as a defacto warning of risk, and there is no science supporting a claim of elevated risk from foods made with bioengineered ingredients. So the vote was a victory not only for the food industry but also for consumers, who already find labels confusing. Having won victories in difficult states of California and Washington, food companies are seeking to put the issue to rest with federal legislation that would preempt any state labeling requirements that may pass in the future. Such a step would be a significant plus for the food industry and for the prospects of bioengineered wheat.
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