The Politics Blog

Grocery Manufacturers put in $3.78M more to defeat I-522's labels on GMO foods

OlympianOctober 26, 2013 

Money keeps rolling into the food and agribusiness campaign-funded committee to defeat Initiative 522 and its mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods and seed stocks. Washington voters have had mail-in ballots for more than a week for the Nov. 5 election.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association contributed $3.78 million since Thursday to the No on 522 committee, bringing the total contribution by the processed-food industry PAC's members to more than $11 million - or more than half of the record $21.46 million raised by the opponents. DuPont Pioneer, a biotech firm producing genetically engineered seeds, gave another $400,000 on Friday.

Initiative 522 requires labels on genetically engineered seeds and processed foods that are made using genetically modified organisms or genetically engineered ingredients. Backers of I-522 include organic food and consumer groups that have raised more than $6.1 million for the Yes on 522 committee, which is one of several PACs that has raised money on the proponents' side.

The single biggest company giving to either side is Monsanto, the chemical firm that sells herbicides and genetically engineered seed stock, which gave more than $5 million to the opposition, according to a recent campaign-finance analysis by MapLight, the nonpartisan group that tracks money in campaigns (it does not include the latest money from GMA). MapLight shows about $9.1 million total raised by committees in favor of I-522.

A recent Elway Poll showed the GMO-labeling measure was leading by just four points after a month of heavy advertising especially by labeling opponents - including a huge swing from a month ago when Elway said I-522 was leading by 45 points. A similar GMO measure was leading in California a year ago until opponents armed with $46 million launched a late barrage of television ads that turned the tide.

The Grocery Manufacturers' contribution comes amid controversy over the association's failure to report as a political committee until the state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit more than a week ago. After the group filed as a PAC, it came to light that Pepsico, Coca-Cola and Nestle each had contributed more than $1 million to fight mandatory labeling on the front of packages (so far Pepsico has given $2.352,966; Nestle, $1.528,206; and Coke, $1.520,351).

Labeling advocates say it's a consumer's right to know how their food is made, and I-522 spokeswoman Elizabeth Larter said the new money is a sign opponents are concerned they could lose. She called the late donations an attempt to "buy" the election.

But opponents point to the lack of clear scientific evidence of harm from genetically engineered foods, and what they argue is misleading and inconsistent labeling of products. They also warn the initiative will drive up food costs by scaring off consumers, which will lead food makers to switch to costlier non-GMO ingredients.

Proponents say costs will be minimal and they dispute that substitution of ingredients will occur on the scale that was seen when Europe introduced labeling. Some also point to a mixed environmental record for GMO crops.

Ferguson, a first-year Democrat, says he intends to seek penalties against the Grocery Manufacturers, alleging their  failure to identify individual companies' contributions is the largest such concealment of funding sources in a Washington campaign. But Ferguson still has not filed court papers to request a penalty, and his office has not said whether it would seek to impound funds that No on 522 received from GMA before it established its legal right to pass on funds from food companies as a registered PAC.

A Thurston County judge last week declined to freeze No on 522's money, which a Moms for Labeling group financed by a major donor to Yes on 522 had sought. The Yes on 522 donor paying legal fees for the Moms group is California-based Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps,  which has contributed more than $2.6 million to the Yes on 522 PAC, according to MapLight's analysis of state Public Disclosure Commission records.

Stay tuned.



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