| SEATTLE/KANSAS CITY, Mo.
SEATTLE/KANSAS CITY, Mo. Oct 29 Major U.S. food
and chemical companies are pouring millions of dollars into
efforts to block approval of a ballot initiative in Washington
state that would make it the first in the United States to
require labeling of foods containing genetically modified crops.
Despite early strong support for the measure, a recent poll
suggests sentiment against the measure, known as I-522, is
growing amid an onslaught of corporate-financed advertising
ahead of the Nov. 5 referendum. Voters will decide whether many
common grocery items containing ingredients from genetically
altered crops should be labeled as such.
Supporters say labeling foods made from genetically modified
organisms (GMO) would provide information for consumers to make
informed shopping choices. Food and chemical companies say the
wording would suggest something is wrong with gene modified
ingredients that the companies believe are safe.
Many foods are made with crops that have been genetically
altered. Corn and soy, two top biotech crops, are key
ingredients in processed foods from cereal to chips to cookies.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which
represents more than 300 food and beverage companies, has put
roughly $11 million into fighting the measure, or roughly half
of the nearly $22 million raised by opponents of labeling,
according to Washington Public Disclosure Commission figures as
That far outstrips the roughly $6.8 million raised by
supporters of the labeling initiative, according to the
"They are making this the most expensive race and are
desperately adding last-minute money to try and buy this
election," said Liz Larter, spokeswoman for "Yes on 522"
campaign, a reference to the ballot measure's number.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, said in a
lawsuit filed Oct. 16 that the grocery group illegally collected
and spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of
But the GMA and other opponents say they have corrected any
finance filing irregularities and they are trying to turn back a
measure that would confuse consumers and have numerous
"It would require tens of thousands of common food and
beverage products to be relabeled exclusively for Washington
state unless they are remade with higher-priced, specially
developed ingredients," said Brian Kennedy, GMA spokesman. "The
measure will increase grocery costs for a typical Washington
family by hundreds of dollars per year."
The outcome of the Washington vote will be closely watched
around the country as more than two dozen U.S. states and the
federal government wrestle with whether to require labeling.
A similar labeling measure narrowly failed in the 2012
election in California by a vote of 51.4 percent against to 48.6
percent in favor.
A consortium that includes General Mills, Nestle USA
, PepsiCo, Monsanto,, DuPont and
other corporate giants, are the key contributors to the nearly
$22 million raised to campaign against the bill.
Monsanto, the world's largest seed company and top developer
of biotech crops, has put in nearly $5.4 million to fight the
labeling measure, including $540,000 added on Monday.
In September, one poll showed support for labeling led
opposition by 45 percentage points. But a survey released on
Oct. 21 by The Elway Poll, a regional non-partisan public
opinion research group, showed support leading by only four
Forty-six percent of a sample of 413 registered voters in
Washington reported that they were inclined to vote for the
labeling law, while 42 percent said they were inclined to vote
against it. The margin of error was 5 percent.
The companies say gene modified crops help farmers be more
productive, and they say hundreds of studies show the foods from
these crops are safe.
But critics say there are hundreds of studies showing that
GMO crops are not safe for people and the animals who consume
them. They also say the crops create environmental problems by
encouraging more use of certain agrochemicals, and consumers
should have the right to know what they are buying.
David Bronner, president of Escondido, Calif.-based Dr.
Bronner's Magic Soaps and a supporter of labeling, said the
ballot initiative may lose in Washington state, but he sees
eventual victory in some state or on a federal level.
The soap company is the chief financial backer for the
pro-labeling campaign, contributing more than $1.7 million. It
makes an array of cleanser and lotion products it markets as
"We're in this for a long haul," Bronner said. "Even if we
lose here we're still feeding the national debate and
conversation. We'll get it eventually."