Food Companies Coughing Up Huge Sums to Oppose GMO Labeling

Big Ag is hell-bent on keeping GMO ingredients under wraps.

Companies like General Mills are willing to pay huge amounts of money to keep GMO ingredients hidden in their products. (Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images)
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

The food fight over California’s historic Proposition 37 ballot initiative, which would require labeling of food products that contain GMO ingredients, is heating up early, now that an influx of nearly $10 million in funding to oppose the measure was reported by the California Secretary of State’s office.

We like naming names, so let’s.

On the no-surprise side of contributions to the Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme, which opposes Proposition 37, were pro-GMO seed companies like DuPont Pioneer, which donated $2.4 million; Bayer Crop Science at $1,064,000; and BASF Plant Science, which donated just under $1 million.

MORE: GMO Corn Is Coming to a Walmart Near You!

Also on the we’re-not-surprised-to-see-you-here list, we have $500,000 donations by PepsiCo, Nestle USA, Coca-Cola North America, ConAgra Foods, and General Mills.

Candy company W.M. Wrigley, Jr. Co. tossed in $116,865. Mars Food North America, makers of brands like Snickers, 3 Musketeers, M&Ms, and Uncle Ben’s rice products, donated $100,242. Hershey’s Company threw in $102,906 to defeat the measure, far more than Godiva Chocolatier, which donated $11,121. Jam and jelly maker JM Smucker Company, on the other hand, gave a substantial $367,604, making clear the company’s stance on the initiative.

Sunny Delight, Kellogg Company, Bumble Bee Foods, Bimbo Bakeries, Campbell Soup, Land O’Lakes, Hormel Foods, Dole Packaged Foods, Del Monte Foods, Ocean Spray Cranberries—all funded the coalition to defeat Prop. 37 as well.

And then there was Knouse Foods. We didn’t recognize their name at first either. It turns out they’re a 50-year-old grower-owned cooperative that makes applesauce and apple juice under the Musselman's, Lucky Leaf, Apple Time, Lincoln, and Speas Farm brand names. Knouse Foods donated $131,409 towards defeating the GMO labeling initiative. In the latest round of funding reporting, that was more than Hormel Foods, Campbell Soup, and Mars Food.  Ken Guise, president and CEO of Knouse Foods, did not respond to our request for an interview.

“Names on an opposition donor list indicate they’re using GMO foods,” Stacy Malkan, of the California Right To Know initiative, tells TakePart. “And in applesauce, it’s probably high-fructose corn syrup, which is not a ‘natural’ ingredient.”

Malkan says the influx of funding to defeat Prop. 37 means the food industry is nervous. Indeed, the river of money flowing into the NO on 37 campaign is notable. According to the Los Angeles Times, the group received just under $10 million in funding in 2012, compared to the grassroots Yes campaign, which has collected approximately $2.4 million in donations.

“We believe the reason they contributed that money now is because we’ll begin seeing a [Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme] ad campaign blanketing the state,” says Malkan. “But our strategy is to organize people. We’re organizing a million more on our website. We’re a true people’s movement and we think that will prevail over the money thrown by the corporations.”

Much of that money, by the way, was donated by those corporations on exactly the same day, Friday, August 3, after the quarterly reporting by the California Secretary of State was complete.

“We are following the law with donations and reporting as required,” Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for the NO on 37 campaign, tells TakePart.

When we asked if it was a coordinated effort, because it certainly looks that way, Fairbanks said she would not disclose strategy, but that all donations will be reported within the 24-hour requirement.

“All campaigns are raising money to educate voters and Prop 37 is no different,” said Fairbanks.

True dat, but the funding muscle of these two groups over a ballot measure that could have epic ramifications for the food industry is drastically different.

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