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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

GMO Activists Take Labeling Battle to Washington State

After the narrow defeat of California’s genetically modified foods (GMO) labeling ballot initiative, Prop 37, supporters vowed to fight on. They shifted their focus to other states, including Washington, where residents will decide the fate of a ballot initiative called I-522 on November 5.

Also known as “The People’s Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” the initiative is attracting the same supporters and opposition as Prop 37 did. Maplight.org has analyzed I-522’s campaign contributions, both for and against, and compared them to contributions for and against Prop 37.

The top opposition for both initiatives includes the big agriculture technology companies, including Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer Corp. and Dow Agrosciences. Nothing surprising there. It also includes the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which includes major companies like Safeway, Starbucks, Target, Con-Agra, Kellogg’s, Unilever, Kraft, General Mills, Hershey’s, Coca-Cola, Dean Foods, Pepsico, and Smuckers. Almost all of those companies have organic product lines. What is interesting is that the money supporting the initiative comes from over 5,000 supporters, but the money to oppose it comes from 12 contributors.

There is a good reason why I-522 and Prop 37 have the same supporters and opposition. The two ballot initiatives are almost identical, and contain almost the same language. Both require that food sold within the state must be labeled  with the words “genetically engineered,” in the case of produce, and “partially produced with genetic engineering” for processed food. Both of the initiatives also contain the same exemptions, namely that any animal fed GMO food won't be labeled as genetically engineered if has not been genetically engineered itself. The exemptions also extend to alcoholic beverages, and any processed food that includes one or more genetically engineered processing aids or enzymes. There is something drastically different about I-522, or at least the campaign in favor of it. The analysis by Maplight.org also shows that contributions in support of I-522 outweigh those in opposition by 4 to 1. The contributions in support of I-522 total over $4 million while the contributions for those opposed are about $950,000. Grist points out that this is quite the opposite of California’s failed GMO labeling ballot initiative last fall where the opposition “outspent those in favor 5 to 1,” at least this early in the race. Prop 37's opposers spent $42 million in the six weeks prior to the election. The prop was narrowly defeated with 6.4 million voting against it and 6.1 million voting for it (51.4% to 48.6%).

I-522 also has the support of Washington farmers. In fact, wheat farmers helped get the initiative on the ballot. Prop 37 had the support of organic farmers and progressives, but did not much support in the  agricultural industry. Washington Governor Jay Inslee has publicly supported GMO labeling while California Governor Jerry Brown never voiced his opinion on Prop 37.

Stay tuned to find out if I-522 will succeed where its California cousin failed.

Photo: CT Senate Democrats

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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