Foes of GMO labeling build war chest

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OLYMPIA — In another sign that Washington will be the national battleground this fall for the fight over genetically altered foods, opponents of a ballot measure requiring those products to be labeled raised almost $1 million last month.

None of it came from Washington state.

The No on I-522 campaign describes itself as “a broad coalition of Washington farmers, food producers, store owners, scientists, business and agricultural leaders, tax payers and consumers.”

So far, however, it is getting its money elsewhere. About half the $945,000 raised last month came from a national association of food and beverage manufacturers, which would be required to put labels on their products. Most of the rest came from chemical companies such as Monsanto that produce genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

A strain of unapproved genetically modified wheat that cropped up last month in a field in Oregon resulted in a partial ban on U.S. wheat exports to Japan and has Monsanto facing lawsuits in Washington, Idaho and several other states.

St. Louis-based Monsanto gave the No on I-522 campaign $242,156 last month. Brad Harwood, a spokesman for the campaign, said initiative opponents are happy to have Monsanto’s support.

“What’s good for Washington farmers is good for them,” Harwood said.

The No on I-522 campaign was formed by the Washington Farm Bureau, which has contributed “in-kind” contributions of $1,610 for staff and meeting time.

Until last month, all of the campaign’s contributions were in-kind, from the farm bureau and other Pacific Northwest agriculture and biotechnology organizations.

California saw a similar match-up of competing interests that spent a total of $55 million last year when its voters faced a similar ballot measure that was defeated.

Initiative 522 would require foods sold in Washington stores to be clearly labeled if they contain GMOs. Supporters say the public has a right to know what’s in their food and many foreign companies already require such labeling.

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