Organic Consumers Association

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How Dr. Bronner's Got All Lathered up about GMOs

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

It's midmorning at the hive of cheap buildings that serves as the global HQ of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, and, as usual, David Bronner isn't working on anything to do with soap. Sure, his phone is ringing off the hook with business calls and a rep from Trader Joe's is visiting tomorrow, but the 40-year-old CEO-who looks like a 6-foot-5 raver version of Captain Jack Sparrow-could care less. A Burning Man amulet dangles on a hemp necklace over his tie-dye shirt as he leans in toward his computer screen, staring at what really matters to him: the latest internal poll results for Washington Initiative 522, a ballot measure that would require the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms.

The initiative, which Washingtonians will vote on tomorrow, is one of the costliest in state history: Its proponents have spent a little more than $7 million, while their opponents in biotech and agribusiness have poured in $22 million.* Dr. Bronner's has donated a whopping $1.8 million to the Yes on 522 campaign. (That's on top of $620,000 it gave in support of a similar California ballot measure last year.) At stake, Bronner says, is consumers' right to decide what they put in their bodies. "If we don't win the right to label and enable people to choose non-GMO, then everything is going to be GMO."

The GMO battle is the latest in a long line of feisty political campaigns waged by Dr. Bronner's, the lovably weird cleaning products dynasty best known for its tingly peppermint liquid soap with the earnestly logorrheic label. ("Absolute cleanliness is Godliness! Teach the Moral ABC that unites all mankind free, instantly 6 billion strong we're All-One.") Since it was founded in 1948 by Bronner's grandfather, the Southern California company has become a soapbox for a variety of causes-from the elder Bronner's religious universalism to its recent campaigns to legalize hemp and marijuana, clean up fair trade and organic standards, and combat income inequality. Activism and charitable donations consume about half of the company's healthy profits. "I feel that if we are not maxed out and pushing our organization to the limit, then what are we doing?" says Bronner.   
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