June 14, 2013 in City, Health

GMO issue attracts out-of-state interest

By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – In another sign that Washington will be the national battleground this fall for the fight over genetically altered foods, opponents of a ballot measure requiring those products to be labeled raised almost $1 million last month.

None of it came from Washington state.

The No on I-522 campaign describes itself as “a broad coalition of Washington farmers, food producers, store owners, scientists, business and agricultural leaders, tax payers and consumers.”

So far, however, it is getting its money elsewhere. About half the $945,000 raised last month came from a national association of food and beverage manufacturers, which would be required to put labels on their products. Most of the rest came from chemical companies such as Monsanto that produce genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

A strain of unapproved genetically modified wheat that cropped up last month in a field in Oregon resulted in a partial ban on U.S. wheat exports to Japan and has Monsanto facing lawsuits in Washington, Idaho and several other states.

St. Louis-based Monsanto gave the No on I-522 campaign $242,156 last month. Brad Harwood, a spokesman for the campaign, said the campaign is happy to have Monsanto’s support, and it’s no surprise the company is contributing to the opposition.

“What’s good for Washington farmers is good for them,” Harwood said.

The No on I-522 campaign was formed by the Washington Farm Bureau, which has contributed “in-kind” contributions of $1,610 for staff and meeting time. Until last month, all of the campaign’s contributions were in-kind, from the farm bureau and other northwest organizations like the Spokane-based Far West Agribusiness Association and the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association of Seattle.

Last month, the campaign was swamped by several different groups raising money in support of the initiative. Most of the pro-522 money is also coming from out of state. As of June 10, five groups had raised more than $2.5 million to get the initiative on the ballot and support the fall campaign. More than three-fourths of that money came from outside Washington, with large donations from companies that make or sell natural and organic products and organizations that support them.

California saw a similar match-up of competing interests that spent a total of $55 million last year when its voters faced a similar ballot measure. In the California campaign, Monsanto contributed more than $8 million to the successful campaign to defeat Proposition 37.

Initiative 522 would require food products sold in Washington stores to be clearly labeled if they contain GMOs. Supporters say the public has a right to know what’s in their food and many foreign companies already require such labeling. Opponents say labeling food just for Washington is an unnecessary and costly move designed to scare consumers away from products which have no proven adverse effects.

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