Organic Consumers Association

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Washington GMO Labeling Campaign Quietly Raises Millions

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

With the local political season focused on the mayoral primary, other races and ballots measures have have faded into the background. Quietly, though, campaigners on both sides of Initiative 522-the measure that would label genetically engineered food--have been raising millions of dollars. A high-stakes battle of national interest is in the offing, one also indicated by some heated rhetoric that is just starting to simmer.

The influx of cash follows the precedent set in California, where more than $50 million was spent fighting over a similar measure, Proposition 37. There, however, agricultural and industry groups opposed to labeling massively outspent the proposition's proponents. The no campaign poured $45 million into the battle, while the war chest of labeling supporters amounted to just $6.7.

But it's the yes campaign that's currently in the lead here. As of the last filing with the Public Disclosure Commission, I-522's backers had raised nearly $2.3 million-and Yes on 522 spokesperson Elizabeth Larter says the campaign is "probably going to be in the 3 range" when it files a new report next week. In contrast, the no campaign had by the last filing raised just under a million dollars. Spokesperson Dana Bieber says she can't comment on forthcoming funds.

The fundraising reports for the two campaigns are strikingly different in other ways. The the no campaign tally lists just five donors, all deep-pocketed organizations from out of state. The Washington DC-based Grocery Manufacturers Association has chipped in roughly $473,000. Monsanto, the huge corporation that produces genetically-engineered seeds, has donated $242,000.

The list of donors is far more extensive on the yes side. Larter claims that 80 percent of them are individuals from within the state. But they also include some wealthy out-of-towners. The yes side's largest contributor is Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, a California producer of organic products that has given a whopping $700,000 to the campaign. The company is also rolling out what it calls an "agitprop label," promoting I-522, on some of its soaps, starting in September. In addition, CEO David Bronner plans to make a personal appearance at Hempfest this month to stump for the initiative.

Bronner, speaking to SW this week, says the initiative has no bearing on his company's bottom line but is in line with its values. "We believe in sustainable agriculture and fair trade," he explains, adding that he is "very concerned about what the chemical industry is doing to our food."      
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