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Initiative 522: Labeling genetically modified foods

The ballot measure seeking to require labels on genetically engineered foods is a heated debate within the state of Washington.

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OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Monday the Grocery Manufacturers Association has filed a suit challenging the constitutionality of Washington’s campaign finance rules and that he would “vigorously” defend the state’s laws.

CR Douglas: Campaign finance disclosureIn a news release, the state attorney general’s office noted that on Jan. 3 in Thurston County Superior Court, the GMA answered Ferguson’s campaign disclosure lawsuit against the GMA with a counterclaim. The organization also filed a separate civil rights complaint against Ferguson. The GMA claims Ferguson is unconstitutionally enforcing Washington’s laws and challenges the constitutionality of requiring the GMA to register a political committee before requesting and receiving contributions to oppose Initiative 522.

“After breaking our state’s campaign finance disclosure laws, the GMA now seeks to have them declared unconstitutional,” Ferguson said. “I look forward to defending transparency in Washington elections.”

Ferguson filed a lawsuit against the GMA in October. The state alleges the GMA violated Washington’s campaign finance disclosure laws when it solicited and collected roughly $10.6 million from its members, placed those funds in a special “Defense of Brand” account and used them to oppose Initiative 522 — the measure that would have required mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods, seeds and seed products in the state. Voters rejected I-522 in the November election.

Under Washington law, the state alleges the GMA should have first formed a political committee, registered it in Washington and followed Washington campaign finance disclosure requirements before contributing the money to the “No on 522″ campaign.

In its counterclaim and civil rights suit, the GMA claims the following are unconstitutional as they have been applied in this case:

  • Washington’s law requiring the GMA to file a political committee before collecting funds from its members for specific political activity in Washington;
  • Washington’s law requiring the GMA to disclose the organizations who contributed to its special political fund and how much they donated; and
  • Washington’s law requiring the GMA to secure $10 in donations from 10 separate registered Washington voters as part of its political committee before donating to another political committee.

The GMA also claims the requirement to secure $10 from 10 registered Washington voters before making political committee to political committee transfers is unconstitutional in all settings.

The GMA is a trade association, based in Washington DC, representing more than 300 food, beverage and consumer product companies. It was the largest single donor to the No on 522 campaign.



SEATTLE — By 54-46%, Washington state’s voters were soundly rejecting Initiative 522, which would require labels on products containing genetically modified organisms, the latest election results showed Wednesday afternoon.
i-522The hotly contentious issue might have spurred the most expensive political campaign in the state’s history – it’s been reported that more than $30 million has been spent and most of it came from out-of-state donors.
On Wednesday afternoon, with more than 1 million votes counted, the measure was being rejected 54-46% statewide, with only King, Whatcom, San Juan and Jefferson counties supporting the proposal. I-522 saw its largest defeat in the state’s smallest county. Garfield County voted 82 percent against the measure, a clear message from a community where two-thirds of the land is occupied by farms.

Pro-Initiative 522 campaign manager Delana Jones refused to concede after initial results were released, pointing out there are thousands of ballots still to be counted.

See the county-by-county breakdown of votes on Initiative 522 here.

SEATTLE — The most expensive and most contentious item on the ballot year is Initiative 522, the measure to require labels on genetically engineered foods.  Nearly $25 million has been spent for and against the effort, making it one of the most costly campaigns in state history.

If I-522 is approved, Washington would be the first state to implement a genetically engineered labeling program.

“It’s about having a label, so you have more information, so you can make the best choice for you when you buy your groceries,” said Elizabeth Larter, spokeswoman for the Yes on I-522 campaign.

i-522The required label would actually be a sentence that would read:  “Partially produced with genetic engineering.”  And that would have to be on the front of the package — not on the side, not on the top, but on the front.

“Information is only useful if it’s accurate, and that’s where Initiative 522 fails consumers,” said Dana Bieber of the No on I-522 campaign.  “It is incomplete, inconsistent and inaccurate.  It provides misleading information to consumers.”

Health Effects

I-522 proponents say they don’t want this to be a debate about the safety of genetically engineered or modified foods, but clearly that’s a big undercurrent of this campaign.

“If GMOs are so great and are helping the world and helping farmers, then why aren’t they proud to have that on their label?” asked Larter.  “Why is the grocery manufacturers association, based in Washington D.C., trying to keep us in the dark about our food?”

Bieber cites hundreds of studies she argues prove that GE foods are healthy and safe.  “These are the foods that we have been eating for over 20 years,” she said.  “Literally millions of people have eaten trillions of meals with GE ingredients and there’s not been one single health consequence to that.”

Label Exemptions

The main argument against I-522 is that it doesn’t apply to everything.  Indeed, opponents say that 70 percent of food would be exempt.  For example, labels wouldn’t be required on beer or wine.  Here’s another:  I-522 wouldn’t apply to a soda you buy at a fountain, but it would for a soda you buy in a can.  How about a delivered pizza? No label on that.  But a frozen pizza from a store, yes.

“We can’t confuse the right to know, with knowing the wrong information,” said Bieber.

But supporters argue that they are just following the U.S. government`s existing food laws, which typically require nutrition labels only on packaged items in a grocery store.

Food Costs

So what about costs?  The sides are very far apart on that.  Opponents argue I-522 will raise food prices for the average family of four by more than $400 a year; opponents say, no way, the costs will only be negligible.

“In the 64 other countries that already label, there’s been no evidence of price increases,” said Larter.  “Why would adding just a couple of words to the front of the package cost consumers hundreds of dollars?”

Bieber argues that ignores a big reality of the business.

“It’s not really about relabeling, it’s about having to remake the products,” she said.  “What our food producers here in the state of Washington would have to do, just for Washington, they would have to remake their foods with higher priced, non-ingredients in order to avoid placing a warning label on them,” she said.

grocery store milkSEATTLE — The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) was the target of a lawsuit by State Attorney General Bob Ferguson last week when he leveled charges that the association had violated the state’s campaign laws by hiding its donors.

Friday, the GMA released its list of donors. Among those organizations contributing more than $1 million were Pepsi, Nestle and Coca-Cola.

Pepsi ranked at the top of the list, donating a total of $1,620,899 to the campaign. Nestle donated $1,052,743 and Coca-Cola chipped in $1,047,322.

Other companies that have donated more than $200,000 to the campaign include: J.M. Smucker, General Mills, Kellogg, ConAgra, Campbell Soup and Hershey. Donors such as the Clorox Company, Bumble Bee, Sunny Delight and Land o’ Lakes also contributed to the campaign.

A total of 34 companies donated to the campaign.

GMA has spent more than $7 million on the “No on 522″ campaign. Proponents of the measure have raised $4.8 million.

no on 522 donor list

OLYMPIA — The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has agreed to disclose the names of donors who are helping fund the No on I-522 campaign, the Washington State’s Attorney General’s Office said Friday, just days after the attorney general alleged the group was failing to adhere to public finance laws by keeping its donors secret.

grocery store milkThe attorney general’s office said the GMA’s decision to disclose its financiers means the office will no longer seek a court injunction on the group. The GMA has reportedly agreed to release its members’ contribution numbers by the end of the day Friday.

Initiative 522 — a measure requiring labeling of genetically engineered foods — is a hotly contested issue in the state, and holds records for campaign finance spending.  The GMA is the largest donor opposing I-522, and has raided more than $7 million for the anti-labeling effort.

The state attorney general accused the GMA of skirting public disclosure laws earlier this week. Previously, representatives from the GMA said they were “surprised” to learn they were doing anything “improper.”

Once the reports of members’ contributions are filed Friday, they will be available for public viewing on the Public Disclosure Commission website. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the move is a step toward informing voters in Washington.

“The people of Washington demand transparency in elections,” Ferguson said.

GMA is a trade association based in Washington DC that represents more than 300 food and beverage companies.

SEATTLE — State Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Wednesday accused the largest donor opposing Initiative 522 of violating the state’s campaign laws by hiding its donors.

The Grocery Manufacturers of Association is the group that is on the hot seat.  It has been fighting hard against I-522, having given over $7 million so far to the anti-labeling effort.  Among other things, it argues it would raise food costs for consumers.

“The GMA explicitly attempted in their own words, to shield members from criticism for opposing Initiative 522,” said Ferguson.  “This is precisely the conduct our state campaign disclosure laws are designed to prevent.”

The attorney general said the group, which is a trade association, is required to disclose to the public where it got all that money. In other words, which member food companies, which member grocery stores have ponied up to defeat I-522.

Ferguson argues it’s the largest case in state history of a group skirting disclosure laws.  He’s ordering that GMA immediately turn over the names of their donors or face what he says would be “substantial” fines.

“The violation is significant,” Ferguson said.  “$7.2 million is awful lot of money to conceal from the public where they are making a decision about an initiative.  And the people of the state of Washington feel strongly about disclosure through our campaigns.  That’s why we’re bringing this action, and that’s why we want to send a message of deterrence as well for future violators.”

Supporters of Initiative 522 applauded the lawsuit Wednesday and demanded that the No ads, which are being financed by this money, be taken off the air.  “I think that the GMA and the No on 522 campaign is anti-transparency,” said Elizabeth Larter, spokeswoman for the Yes on I-522 campaign.  “They just don’t want people to know who’s funding their campaign, just like they don’t want us to know what’s in our food.”

The attorney general made clear that this is not a suit against the No on 522 campaign directly, rather, it’s a case against one of its biggest contributors.

The No on I-522 campaign made clear it had done nothing wrong.

“This is a legal dispute between the GMA and the Attorney General’s Office,” said Brad Harwood, spokesman for the campaign to defeat the initiative.  “The No on 522 campaign is not a party.  We have fully reported all our donations from GMA, and if GMA had done what the attorney general is suggesting, it would not have affected how we report their donations.”

On Wednesday afternoon the GMA issued a statement in response to the lawsuit:

“GMA…is surprised to learn that the Washington state authorities viewed the association’s actions as improper.   GMA will review its actions in Washington state and relevant statutes and continue to cooperate with state authorities to fully resolve the issue as promptly as possible.”

SEATTLE — Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Wednesday that his office is filing a suit against the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) for violation of the state’s campaign disclosure law.
Ferguson alleges the GMA skirted the rules in its $7.2 million contribution to the “No on 522″ campaign and that the association illegally collected and spent the monies while shielding the identify of its contributors.

grocery store milk“When Washington state voters overwhelming approved Initiative 276 in 1972, they voiced their desire for transparency and openness in elections,” Ferguson said. “Truly fair elections demand all sides follow the rules by disclosing who their donors are and how much they are spending to advocate their views.”

The 522 ballot initiative over labeling genetically engineered food has raised more money than any other campaign in the state, the Seattle Times reported. Opponents of the measure were said to have raised $17.2 million, while proponents of the measure had raised $4.8 million.

Overall, the monies invested on each side of the initiative has made it the second-costliest in state history, the Times reported. The previous record for money spent on a ballot initiative was set in 2011 by opponents of liquor sales privatization.

The GMA, based in Washington, D.C., represents more than 300 food, beverage and consumer companies and is the largest donor to the “No on 522″ campaign.

Ferguson’s lawsuit compels GMA to register with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission and file disclosure statements. In a statement, Ferguson also said he is prepared to seek a temporary restraining order that would order GMA to immediately comply with state disclosure laws.

Civil penalties, costs of investigation and other fees are also being sought by Ferguson’s office.

California was the first state to propose labeling genetically modified foods in the November 2012 election. The measure failed. You can read more about that from CNN here.


gmoSEATTLE — The hotly contested fight over genetically engineered food labeling just smashed a state record, according to The Seattle Times.  Initiative 522 opponents have raised a record $17.2 million.  That’s more than any other campaign opposing a statewide ballot measure.

The newspaper says proponents of the measure to require labels on genetically altered foods have raised less than one-third of their opponents’ total, at $4.8 million.  The ‘Yes on I-522′ campaign is getting money from businesses such as Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, which recently donated $500,000.

The No campaign is getting funds from organizations such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto and Dupont.

When you add the money both sides have spent together, the battle over this initiative is the second-costliest in state history.