Washington GM labeling initiative could be headed for defeat

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



SEATTLE, Nov. 6, 2013 - Although the final tally will not be known until all absentee ballots are counted, Washington voters were largely rejecting Initiative 522 on Tuesday night - a measure that would have mandated labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods on the front of packages containing GM ingredients.

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The measure was failing 45 percent to 55 percent with more than 980,000 ballots counted by 9 pm, according to the Washington Secretary of State's office.

But supporters of the initiative were not conceding, noting that voters in Washington only had to postmark their ballots by Tuesday and that many votes in the most populated and liberal-leaning counties had not yet been counted. The state is expected to provide a more complete count by the end of this week and certify results by Dec. 5.

The initiative earned favorable approval in early polls, with two-thirds of voters supporting the mandate. But a heavy barrage of advertising and education seemed to sway voters in the other direction.

Groups advocating both for and against the measure spent a combined $30 million, making the race the second-highest spending initiative in Washington history - following an effort to privatize liquor sales, which captured over $32 million in contributions.

The “No” campaign, with $22 million in donations, set a record for fundraising by one side in an initiative battle in Washington. The biggest donors included mostly out of state organizations and companies, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association - on behalf of major food companies - which donated about $16 million to the campaign.

Last month, GMA was forced to reveal its own donors, including companies like PepsiCo and General Mills, after the state attorney general filed a lawsuit alleging the group did not properly follow disclosure laws.

Other major contributors to the campaign included seed and chemical companies such as Monsanto ($10.7 million), DuPont Pioneer ($4 million) and Bayer CropScience ($1.2 million).

Almost 70 percent of the $8 million in funding for the “Yes” campaign also came from out-of-state businesses and organizations, led by California-based Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps ($2.3 million), Whole Foods ($50,000) and the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C ($455,000).

Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), said in a statement this morning that mandatory labels would “only serve to confuse consumers and raise food prices without any additional benefits.”

Greenwood said BIO would continue to provide consumers with “valuable information about the foods we eat,” plugging the GMO Answers website where biotechnology experts answer everyday questions about GM technology, as well as pro-GM positions of the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization.

Regardless of the outcome in Washington, the issue is likely to resurface in other states. Already, groups opposed to genetic engineering are planning a ballot initiative in Oregon for next year.

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This story was updated at 10:15 am.  

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