WASHINGTON Oct 9 A month before election day,
environmentalists urged biotechnology companies and a food
industry group to stop pouring money into a campaign against a
proposed food-labeling law in Washington state.
Opponents have donated $17 million to defeat the referendum,
which if passed would require special labels on raw and
processed food made from genetically modified crops. It is the
largest amount ever raised against a ballot initiative in the
Voters support the idea of labeling by a wide margin,
according to a September poll by Seattle-based Elway Research.
The Washington state proposal is nearly identical to a 2012
California referendum that enjoyed early support but lost by 2
percentage points after a late-surging, big-spending campaign by
In that case, groups opposed to labeling, including Monsanto
Co and PepsiCo, spent about $46 million on an
"The money particularly comes in at the end," said Andy
Behar of As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy group for
environmental and social causes.
He said big food companies "should not be adding to that $17
million" in Washington state, whose population is less than
one-fifth of California's. Behar spoke on Wednesday on a
conference call with environmentalists who support the proposed
Victory in Washington state could be a springboard for
action in other states or in the U.S. Congress for the labeling
movement. Food makers and biotech companies say the drive is
misguided and will drive up the cost of food.
"We believe that political contributions are a poor
investment and are calling companies not to spend money opposing
legislation that would give consumers labeling information,"
said Lucia von Reusner of Green Century Capital Management,
manager of environmentally focused mutual funds.
As a lever for action, Behar and von Reusner said their
groups would file shareholder resolutions to prevent companies
such as Monsanto from engaging in advocacy about GM labeling.
Monsanto, the largest agricultural biotech company in the
world, has donated $4.8 million against the referendum.
The largest opposition donor, at $7.2 million, has been the
Grocery Manufacturers Association, a food industry trade group.
DuPont Pioneer, a biotech seed company, was the
third-largest donor at $3.4 million.
In a statement of policy, GMA said genetically modified
foods are safe and that regulators have found "no negative
health effects associated with their use." It said up to 80
percent of U.S. food contains GM ingredients.
Backers of the Washington state initiative, known as I-522,
had raised $5.3 million as of early October. The largest donor
was Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, a family-run company based in
California, with $1.8 million.
Connecticut in June became the first state to pass a GM
labeling law. But it will not take effect unless four other
states in the U.S. Northeast - with a combined population of 20
million and one of which borders Connecticut - approve similar
Maine legislators approved a labeling bill but the governor
has yet to sign it.
The nationwide Just Label It campaign wants the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration to set nationwide rules on GM labeling