Organic Consumers Association

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The Fight over Engineered Food Lands in Washington

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Washington News page.

A national fight over labeling of genetically engineered foods is touching down in Washington this fall, fueled by money from organic and food-safety advocates.

On the other side, large agribusiness and food industry groups are giving mightily to efforts that oppose Initiative 522.

Like Proposition 37 that failed narrowly in California a year ago after opponents spent $46 million to defeat it, I-522 would require that food products with genetically modified or engineered contents be labeled.

Genetically engineered foods are those that come from plants that have had genes transferred from another organism.

Although opponents of I-522 say there is no scientific proof that "GMOs" or "GE" foods pose dangers for consumers, the Yes on I-522 campaign says consumers should know what they are buying.

"People are talking about this issue. They really care. They want to know what is in their food," Yes on I-522 spokeswoman Elizabeth Larter said. She described the appeal to consumers' logic as: "It's my choice. It's my decision. It's my right to know. We know the sodium levels, the sugar levels'' in foods that already are labeled.

I-522 was filed as an initiative to the Legislature, but Washington's lawmakers ignored it in their just concluded marathon legislative session, sending the measure to the Nov. 5 ballot.

Legislators also took a pass on professional initiative promoter Tim Eyman's Initiative 517, which proposes additional protections for initiative campaigns. Eyman's measure is headed to the same November ballot but does not appear to be attracting much money. His campaign has reported $305,000 in in-kind donations, while the effort to block his measure has raised just $8,100.

On the contrary, money is pouring into the Evergreen State from across the country for and against I-522.

As of last week's filings with the state Public Disclosure Commission, No on I-522 forces had collected nearly $952,000 - with all but $6,700 of it coming from five industry groups. The largest amount was $472,500 from the Grocery Manufacturers Association in Washington, D.C. Another $242,156 was from Monsanto in St. Louis, $171,281 from DuPont Pioneer in Johnson, Iowa, and $29,531 each was from Bayer Cropscience in North Carolina and Dow AgroSciences LLC in Indianapolis.

The backers of food labeling say their issue is attracting many small in-state donors - even though more than $1.6 million of the Yes on I-522 campaign's $2.1 million in funds has come from out-of-state pockets.         
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