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Opponents Of GMO Labeling Raise Record $17 Million

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KUOW / John Ryan

Opponents of genetic labels on food just got a $5 million boost. The donation from the Grocery Manufacturers Association sends the No on 522 campaign into the record books. More money is going against the genetic labeling initiative than against any other ballot measure in Washington history.

The No on 522 campaign has amassed a war chest of $17.2 million.

With its latest $5 million check, the Grocery Manufacturers Association rockets past agribusiness giant Monsanto Co. as the campaign’s biggest donor.

The Washington, D.C.-based grocery association has given $7.2 million; St. Louis-based Monsanto has given $4.8 million.

The latest big donation also continues the trend of most money on the state ballot measure—on both sides—coming from out of state.

“We’re happy to have the resources available to run a broad statewide campaign,” said No on 522 spokesman Brad Harwood.

I-522 would require labels on foods that have genetically modified ingredients. It echoes a 2012 measure that California voters defeated after food and agricultural companies, led by Monsanto and Dupont, spent nearly $46 million to defeat it.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association counts among its members some big companies you’d expect, like General Mills, Hormel, Kellogg, Nestle, PepsiCo and Safeway.

It also includes a few Washington state companies you might not expect, like Starbucks and Microsoft.

The association has not disclosed where it obtained the funds that it’s spending on the Washington state race.

Starbucks spokesperson Alisha Damodaran said the company has not given any money to either side of the 522 campaign. She would not disclose the dues that Starbucks pays to be part of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

“We have not taken a position on the issue of [genetically modified organism] labeling,” Damodaran said. “We continue to explore how we can best provide our customers the information they need to make informed decisions about their food and beverage choices.”

Microsoft spokespeople declined to respond to a request for information by KUOW’s deadline.

The biggest supporter of I-522 has been the maker of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. The California business has given $1.8 million. Opponents of I-522 have raised three times as much as its supporters.

Both sides report spending a small fraction of the money they’ve raked in. So you can expect a lot more TV ads and flyers in the weeks ahead.

A newly formed group of I-522 supporters and campaign volunteers calling itself Moms For Labeling, incorporated three weeks ago, has sued the No on 522 campaign. The suit seeks to force the Grocery Manufacturers Association to disclose where it got the money it has pumped into the No on 522 campaign. The “no” side has counter-sued. A hearing is scheduled Friday morning in Thurston County Superior Court.

In 2011, beer and wine wholesalers and other opponents of privatizing liquor sales spent $12.3 million in a failed attempt to preserve the state’s monopoly on liquor stores. In the most expensive race in state history, they were outspent by Costco, which gave $20.9 million in support of the successful measure, according to Washington Public Disclosure Commission records.

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