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Spin Control

Posts tagged: GMO labeling

Sunday Spin: Initiative fights continue after elections end

OLYMPIA – For a political reporter, state initiatives have become gifts that just keep on giving.

There have always been plenty of unusual ideas for ballot measures that crop up every spring, sort of like dandelions in the political lawn, and knock-down campaign battles over the few that collect enough signatures to make the ballot.

Some measures manage to remain controversial long after voters approve or reject them. . . 

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GMO labeling group faces legal action for campaign violations

OLYMPIA — The attorney general will investigate possible legal action against an Iowa group that spent nearly $300,000 on last year's food labeling initiative but didn't report its donors until after the election.

The state Public Disclosure Commission referred a case against Food Democracy Action to the attorney general's office for possible legal action after members said the PDC doesn't have the authority to issue a stiff enough fine. The commission is limited to a fine of $10,000.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson is already suing Grocery Manufacturers Association, a group opposed to the initiative, for failing to follow state campaign disclosure laws.

Food Democracy Action, described by its attorney Greg Wong as a small non-profit based in Iowa, began raising money in July to support Initiative 522, a measure that would require most processed foods in Washington that contain genetically modified foods to note that on their label. Eventually it formed a political action committee for Washington and over the next five months, it spent more than $295,000 to support I-522. 

But it didn't register with the PDC until Oct. 25, and didn't file its first lists of contributors until Nov. 22, some two weeks after the election. Its expenditure reports weren't filed until Jan. 15. It faces multiple violations of failing to meet deadlines for reporting contributions and expenditures from July through January.

The group has limited staff and no experience with Washington election laws, Wong said. The yes campaign for I-522 spent some $8 million, and Food Democracy Action's contributions were a small percentage of that, he added.

But the contributions still amount to “very large dollars,” commission attorney Linda Dalton said before commissioners voted unanimously to send the complaint to the attorney general.

I-522 campaign rerun on GMO salmon bill

OLYMPIA – For a while, it seemed as though someone hit the rewind button Friday in the Legislature. Last year’s ballot battle over genetically modified food was being rerun in a hearing as some fishing groups called for a ban on re-engineered salmon and others said the idea was unnecessary fear mongering.

The House Agriculture Committee considered, but did not yet vote, on HB 2143, which would also require any genetically modified salmon sold in Washington stores to be labeled.

Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, the bill’s sponsor, said it was more narrow than Initiative 522, which would have required many genetically modified foods to be labeled if it passed last year. It got about 49 percent of the vote, and failed.

Follow-up polling shows a majority of people still support labeling for genetically modified food, and the numbers increase for labeling fish, which already must say if they are farm raised, Condotta said. “We’ve spent billions of dollars to rebuild our salmon stocks,” he said.

Anne Mosness, a former fisher and director of the Go Wild Campaign that promotes wild fish over farm-raised varieties, said genetically modified salmon could escape their farm pens just as Atlantic salmon do. Because they are engineered to grow faster, they would represent a hungry new carnivorous species in Washington waters.

Representatives of companies that raise Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound “farms” said they had no plans to produce genetically modified salmon but argued the bill’s language is so vague that it could prohibit research at state universities and ban trout raised for restaurants. Farm groups said any labeling rules should be done nationally, not state-by-state.

Heather Hanson of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests said the bill wasn’t about fish so much as about stigmatizing technology and stimulating fear. Supporters are “afraid of things that sound scary, that they don’t understand.”

Most money for I-522 from outside WA

OLYMPIA – Out-of-state money pouring into the campaign coffers of this fall’s initiative to require labeling of genetically modified food products make clear that Washington will once again be a battleground state for progressive causes.

Supporters of Initiative 522, which would require any product sold in Washington stores to say if it contains genetically altered substances, have raised nearly $2 million for various campaign organizations. Three-fourths of it came from businesses or people outside Washington who won’t be voting on the measure this fall.

“It’s part of a national movement,” Liz Larter, a spokeswoman for the Yes on I-522 campaign, said of efforts to require consumers be told if their products contain modified ingredients. But Washington is likely to be the only state where the battle will be joined at the ballot box this fall after a similar measure failed last year in California. . .

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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