Proponents of Washington's GMO labeling bill say they have slight lead going into Tuesday's election

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Grocery manufacturers association

The Yes on 522 campaign said it has raised almost $8 million from more than 15,000  donors.
The Yes on 522 campaign said it has raised almost $8 million from more than 15,000 donors.
The proponents of Washington State’s I-522 initiative mandating the labeling of foods containing GMO ingredients claim they have a slight lead hours before tomorrow's election deadline.

The latest poll released by local indepndent canvasser Stuart Elway shows support for the initiative has eroded, but that still a slight majority favors its passage—46% in favor with 42% against—according to a recent report in the Seattle Times​.  The results are within the poll’s margin of error, Elway said.  Still, proponents say being ahead by any margin is good news at this point in the campaign a day before the deadline for dropping off mail-in ballots.

“I feel incredibly positive about our prospects,”​ Delana Jones, campaign manager for Yes on 522, told FoodNavigator-USA. 

Big differential in spending

Jones noted that support for the initiative has endured even as the opposition forces marshal vast amounts of money to defeat it. Led by some multinational bioscience companies such as Monsanto, Dow, BASF and Bayer and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which channeled money from big food companies like PepsiCo, General Mills, Nestle and Kellogg, anti-522 forces have poured $22 million into the effort. Monsanto alone has contributed $5.4 million to the No on 522 campaign.

The pro-522 forces, by contrast, have raised about $7.8 million so far, Jones said.  But the campaign managed to do it via a strong grass roots effort, with as many as 15,000 donors giving money to the group.  Only a few more than 40 companies have put up almost all of the money to attempt to defeat the measure, Jones said.

“We also have a great ground game. We have had 8,000 or 9,000 volunteers every day​."

More concentrated electorate

Jones said the campaign in Washington differs from that in California where that state’s stab at GMO labeling via Proposition 37 was defeated in 2012. 

In Washington, 70% of the voters the campaign needs to reach live in King County, comprising Seattle and its suburbs. In California, the state’s electorate is spread among several major media markets, making running TV campaign ads very expensive. By this point in the California election the vast amount of money expended by the anti-Prop 37 forces ($44 million) had had its effect, Jones said, and support for that measure had eroded into the 40% range.

Even though they have been outspent, Steve Hoffman, a Colorado-based natural products industry consultant and a member of the Yes on 522 finance committee, said the funding differential is closer this time around than it was in California.

“We managed to narrow a 6-to-1 outspend to less than a 3-to-1 outspend,”​ he said.

Opponents of the measure have sounded similar themes to those that worked for them in California, Hoffman said. Mandatory labeling is not needed, it will raise grocery costs for consumers and it will hurt farmers. Opponents have also raised the issue of bounty hunter lawsuits in which manufacturers or producers could be sued over minor, and perhaps inadvertent, inclusions of GMO ingredients. The wording of the Washington initiative creates an environment in which that is less likely to happen than it might have been under Prop 37, proponents say.

Disclosure of donations

Hoffman said the opponents of mandatory GMO labeling seemed to have learned from their experience in California.

“The change here is that they tried to unlawfully hide the money coming from multinational food companies,”​ Hoffman said.

In mid October Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson sued the Grocery Manufacturers Association, forcing the organization to disclose the list of donors that put up the $11 million devoted to defeating the initiative. Ferguson quoted internal memos from the GMA in his complaint, which he said showed a systematic attempt by the organization to shield big food companies from bad publicity by laundering their donations.

“It is by far the largest funded campaign in Washington state history. Everybody’s talking about how corporate money is trying to buy a campaign and I think that story is getting some traction,”​ Hoffman said.

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Posted by Lilly Hultz,

Pleae vote yes on this bill..we the people deserve to know what we are eating and its right to do this!!! It can't possibly raise prices or cause any big fuss...Please vote yes on 522

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Posted by Steve Farrar,

The extent of the disinformation and outright lies spread by Monsanto et al. during the leadup to the vote on Prop. 37 in California wasn't much reported on in the press(if reported at all) until after the election was over. Looks like this time the biotech bullies are not getting quite as much of a free pass to disinform as they did here in California

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I am hopeful this will pass,

Posted by Sandra,

however, I think it is obscene that the quality of our food supply is determined by the amount of money the opposition contributes and not by what is good for humanity. Even though the argument on either side may not be 100% conclusive, corporations with an obvious conflict of interest should not be allowed to contribute that kind of money to simply buy the outcome they want to see.

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