Washington could be first state to pass GMO labeling law

A ballot measure in next week’s election will give voters here the chance to make Washington the first state to require the labeling of genetically engineered foods. But the question of whether to put a few words on a package has touched off a surprisingly high-stakes, big-dollar fight with potential implications for other states. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/31/us/vote-on-labeling-modified-food-spurs-costly-battle-in-washington-state.html?ref=us
Large contributions from multinational food companies, mostly in opposition to the measure, have surged into the state, making this one of the most expensive initiative battles in Washington’s history, totaling almost $29 million. And both sides say that if it passes, the measure, known as Initiative 522, could spur other states to similar action.
Companies like the big seed company Monsanto, General Mills, Pepsi and Kellogg are fighting the measure through contributions to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, outspending supporters by about three to one. Supporters, however, have their own economic heft, notably the support of Whole Foods, which has been working closely with the staff of the Yes on 522 campaign group, and the organic farming industry, which would be exempt from the measure.
Modifying the genes of food crops to increase yield or resistance to pests or herbicides has become a fixture of global agriculture. Skeptics say the safety record for such products is unclear, or that modified foods have not been around long enough for certainty.
In Washington, transparency and cost have been fighting words.
Supporters say the exemptions and the language were written to be congruent with labeling laws for genetically modified food in other countries, as well as existing nutrition labeling rules set by the Food and Drug Administration. They also say that restaurant meals and alcohol have long been exempt from federal rules on nutritional content and that the measure was narrowly drawn to reduce the risk of legal challenge.
The real money issue, supporters say, is about the corporations fighting the ballot measure, until recently in secret.
This month, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, citing campaign disclosure laws, sued the Grocery Manufacturers Association and forced the group to divulge donations that had been given to the association then sent to No on 522 campaign, but not publicly released.
“The GMA illegally collected and spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of its donors,” Mr. Ferguson’s office said in a news release.
The release of a donor list fueled questions about the corporate agenda behind opposition to the initiative, supporters of the measure assert. Voters now often bring up the money question, said Delana Jones, the campaign manager for Yes on 522. “And when they do, we’re ready to talk about it,” she said. “What are they trying to hide?”

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