Big Business Spends Millions to Keep You in the Dark About GMOs

More than $11 million has been poured into the fight against GMO labeling in Washington.

Monsanto & Big Business Spends Millions to Keep You in The Dark About GMOs
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

GMO labeling advocates are suffering a bad case of déjà vu this week.

Just like last year’s defeat of a California ballot initiative that would have required the labeling of food products that contain genetically modified ingredients, big money is flowing in to defeat Washington’s 522 GMO labeling ballot initiative.

According to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission, $3.2 million was donated to the No on 522 Campaign by DuPont Pioneer on Tuesday. A few days prior to that, Monsanto chipped in nearly $4.6 million. And in the weeks just prior to that, the Grocery Manufacturers Association bellied up $1.75 million, while Bayer Crop Science, Dow AgroSciences and BASF Plant Science chipped in over a half a million dollars each, bringing the total dollar amount raised to just over $11 million.

That dwarfs the Yes on 522 campaign’s $3.5 million in funding, which came from the main donors in California’s label fight: Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps at $950,000; Organic Consumer Fund at $480,000; and Mercola.com at $200,000.

The river of money is streaming from the who’s-who of agri-chemical interests and big food. If California’s history is any measure of how this ballot measure will play out, the flow of money aimed at defeating the labeling initiative isn’t going to run dry any time soon.

Yes on 522 spokeswoman Elizabeth Larter says the influx of funding to defeat the measure was expected because her opponents have no individual donors and no in-state donors. The six companies and trade associations funding the whole effort are the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Bayer and BASF, she said.

Who’s missing so far in the current fight over labeling? PepsiCo Inc., General Mills Inc., Coca-Cola Co., Kraft Foods and others who donated millions to defeat California’s labeling effort.

TakePart reached out to the media departments of both PepsiCo and General Mills to find out if they would be donating funds to the No on 522 campaign, but did not hear back from either company.

As we told you back in April, General Mills Chairman and CEO Kendall Powell made it clear the company believes genetically modified ingredients are safe, that they provide environmental benefits, and that they’re part of the broad solution the company will look to as the global population increases.

“It’s going to add costs to consumers for products we believe are completely safe,” Kendall said.

But Larter says the conversation over GMO labeling has matured in the year since the California measure.

“Prop. 37 raised awareness, as did Trader Joe’s announcement and Whole Food’s labeling announcement. People are much more aware of this issue in general,” she says.

A new Elway Poll released on Tuesday showed strong support for Washington’s 522 measure. Two out of three voters polled said they would vote in favor of the measure. 

“There were strong majorities in favor of I-522 in every demographic category of voter interviewed,” according to poll results. A result that ominously mirrors California polling, before No on 37 ads saturated TV and radio airwaves.

[Update: Dana Bieber, spokesperson for the No on 522 campaign declined to confirm whether the group's ads will begin airing on TV or radio Sunday or Monday. When asked if individual donors have contributed to the No on 522 campaign, she said: "The funders of our campaign work in lock-step with our farmers, and our farmers are overwhelmingly opposed to 522. Farmers are part of our grassroots efforts -- they contribute with in-kind donations. The Washignton Farmers Bureau has over 40,000 members and are urging a no vote. Same with the Washington Association of Wheat Growers."

Still, according to the state's Public Disclosures Commission, no individual donors have contributed cash to the No on 522 coalition to-date.]

Unlike California, however, the vote on 522 is not done at actual polling locations.

It’s a mail-in only election.

Ballots drop Oct. 18, and can be mailed in until Tuesday, Nov. 5.

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