GMO labeling foes pour millions into Washington contest

Washington’s Initiative 522, on the state's ballots next month, is the latest front in the ongoing battle over genetically modified organisms (GMO). Critics of GMO crops and food, including advocacy groups and organic farmers, warn that they could pose threats to public health and damage the environment. 

Major industry and biotechnology groups maintain that GMO crops products are perfectly safe. Mandatory labels, they argue, are unnecessary and could prejudice consumers against important technological advancements.

In Washington, opponents, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), Monsanto and Dupont Pioneer, have poured more than $17 million into I-522, on the state’s ballot in November, according to figures compiled by MapLight.

The nonpartisan research group, which tracks money in politics, found that groups in favor of the labels have spent roughly $5.2 million, according to MapLight’s report.

The contest is reminiscent of California’s Prop. 37, which was narrowly defeated last year. Industry groups and other critics of the Golden State measure pumped more than $44 million into the opposition campaign, outspending proponents by a margin of more than 4 to 1.

Now, as the action shifts north, labeling proponents expressed optimism that they could prevail on I-522, despite the spending gap.

"Washington State is this fall’s ground zero in our battle for the consumers’ right to know," said Colin O'Neil, director of government affairs at the Center for Food Safety.  "Yet in the face of the $17 million raised, we remain hopeful that Washingtonians will see past the attack ads and vote yes for labeling."

O'Neil called attention to a lawsuit filed this week by Washington's Attorney General's Office, accusing the GMA of violating campaign finance rules in the contest.

The association, which has injected more than $7 million into the opposition effort, issued a statement Tuesday, saying it was looking into the allegation.

“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," the statement said.