The outcome was clear to many on election night, but backers of Initiative 522 waited to concede on Thursday evening that its campaign to label genetically modified foods in Washington had lost. Numbers improved in recent days for the Yes on 522 campaign, but nine days after the Nov. 5 election the measure still was trailing by 46,213 votes or nearly 3 percentage points.
Backers blamed their loss on the record $20.13 million in spending by out-of-state food and agribusiness firms, as well as low turnout that suggested a more conservative electorate. Yes on 522 co-chair Trudy Bialac of PCC Markets vowed to return in 2016 with another ballot effort, saying that a presidential election year would bring out more voters and younger ones with a more progressive outlook.
“This fight isn’t over,” Bialac said in the campaign's prepared statement. “We will be back in 2016 to challenge and defeat the out-of-state corporations standing in the way of our right to know.’’
No on 522's outlay set a new record for spending by any one group in a Washington campaign. Only Washington's liquor privatization measure in 2011 drew more spending on all sides of a measure.
The largest single donor to No on 522 was the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which collected more than $11 million from its members. The single largest company to give was Monsanto Co., which makes agricultural products including pesticides and seeds and contributed in excess of $5 million. The GMA still faces legal action for having collecting its money illegally without first registering as a political committee, according to the Washington attorney general, who filed suit against the food industry group and is expected to seek penalties in court.
By contrast, Yes on 522 raised about $8 million and reported spending closer to $7 million. Its biggest donor was Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps in California, which contributed more than $2.2 million.
The opposition followed the winning script used in the industry’s defeat of a similar California labeling measure in 2012, saturating television, radio and other media with ads claiming the labeling law was confusing and would drive up consumers’ costs. Proponents contended it was the public's right to know what was in their food.
Despite losing by as much as 100,000 votes, proponents refused to admit defeat until Thursday. Here is the statement put out by Yes on 522:
“Seattle – Spending more money than ever before spent in a Washington state ballot measure contest, out-of-state pesticide and junk food industries funded a campaign of lies that deceived Washington voters in this election, leaving consumers in the dark about what is in grocers they are buying and eating. “2013 general election turnout is the lowest ever recorded, skewing older and more conservative, and away from younger, more progressive voters driving the GE labeling movement. These ‘off-year’ election results depict how viable a Washington state GMO labeling ballot measure would be in a presidential election cycle with a much higher, younger, and more progressive voter turnout. While it is unfortunate I-522 did not pass, it has set the stage for victory in 2016. “Thank you to everyone who voted, volunteered, donated and supported this effort,” said Trudy Bialac, co-chair for Yes on 522. “There was lower than expected voter turnout this year. Despite being outspent 3-to-1, we are projecting winning 49 percent of the vote. We are disappointed with the results, but the polling is clear that Washingtonians support labeling and believe they have a right to know. This fight isn’t over. We will be back in 2016 to challenge and defeat the out-of-state corporations standing in the way of our right to know.’’