Washington State Votes Down GMO Labeling. Have Food Giants Become Unstoppable?

The story of WA's I-522 is eerily similar to that of CA's Prop. 37.

An employee stocks produce near a sign supporting the ballot initiative I-522 in Washington state that would have required labeling of foods containing genetically modified crops. (Photo by Jason Redmond/ Design by Lauren Wade)

Nov 7, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

Washington state is the new California. Which is not to say that Washington has a new, booming film or tech industry, or that the Evergreen State is overtaking California as the symbol of the dream of the American West. No, Washington appears to be the new California in the sense that the state’s GMO labeling initiative, which voters weighed in on on Tuesday, went the way of Proposition 37, which was defeated in the Golden State in 2012.

Ballots are still being counted, but the latest numbers have the “no” camp in a commanding lead, with 54 percent of the vote. Not only does that mean that the initiative, I-522, will fail, but it’s an ending that completes a story in 2013 that's eerily similar to what happened in 2012. In short: Overwhelming early support for labeling, followed by overwhelming out-of-state spending by biotech and Big Ag concerns fighting against the law, followed by a loss at the polls.

In Washington, the corporate spending blitz led to a legal fight in which state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the Grocery Manufacturers Association for violating campaign disclosure laws. The suit alleged that the trade group withheld the source of corporate donations to protect brands from consumer backlash (also a hallmark of the Prop. 37 affair).

All told, the No on 522 campaigns raised $22 million, a record haul for a campaign in the state. Just $550 came from Washingtonians, according to The Seattle Times.

The pro-labeling camp received hefty, albeit comparatively smaller, out-of-state donations too. Money from greenish companies such as Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps amounted to $7.9 million.

Stephen Colbert, for his part, was excited about the initiative's defeat on “The Colbert Report” last night, saying, “I want genetically modified foods. Because you are what you eat, and I’m hoping one day a mutant tomato can give me heat vision.”

Addressing concerns that the complicated nature of food corporation supply chains would make it difficult to determine which ingredients are genetically modified, Colbert suggested Big Food’s track record wasn’t promising: “They don’t even know if there’s food in their food,” he said.