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Companies donate millions to defeat food labeling initiative I-522

Opponents of a food labeling initiative are gearing up to air their first television commercials in an ad campaign expected to cost millions of dollars and run up to Election Day in November.

A copy of a contract filed with the Federal Communication Commission shows the ‘No on Initiative 522’ campaign has booked $72,000 worth of advertising this week on KOMO-TV in Seattle. A 30-second spot would air beginning with the early morning newscast last Monday, according to the contract.

Additional contracts reserve time every day on the station through the last day of voting, Nov. 5.

Supporters of the measure are anticipating the launch of television ads now that the opposition has received millions of dollars from Monsanto and DuPont, two corporations that worked to defeat a similar labeling measure in California in 2012.

“This goes to show these corporations are really more focused on protecting their bottom line than giving grocery shoppers in Washington state more information about their food,” said Elizabeth Larter, spokeswoman for the ‘Yes on 522’ campaign.

If passed, Initiative 522 would require many food products made with genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such. This would apply primarily to processed and packaged foods sold in supermarkets and other retail outlets.

What this means, for example, is a product made with corn, canola or soybeans grown from scientifically created seed stock would need a label to inform the buyer of the modified ingredients. Snack foods such as chips and soft drinks that contain artificial ingredients would need labels starting in July 2015.

Supporters argue that the measure is about giving shoppers more information about what’s in the food they consume. Labels would not be required on food sold in restaurants or on dairy and meat products, even if the cattle are fed genetically engineered foods.

Opponents counter that I-522 would create new and costly burdens on farmers and businesses, and would increase food costs. They also say the state will need to spend money to enforce the labeling law.

As of Friday, the No on 522 committee had raised nearly $12 million in donations and pledges, according to reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission. After expenditures, the committee had a little over $10 million available.

“We plan to use our resources to share with voters how misleading 522 is and how it is going to increase grocery costs by hundreds and hundreds of dollars a year,” Bieber said.

The majority of the opposition money arrived this month from the two companies, which are among the nation’s biggest producers of genetically modified seed products.

Monsanto wrote a $4.6 million check on Sept. 5, pushing its total donations to the campaign to roughly $4.85 million. On Sept. 10, DuPont gave $3.2 million and is now up to nearly $3.4 million in contributions.

The level of spending should come as no surprise. Last year, the two firms topped all contributors to the effort to defeat Proposition 37 in California.

In that campaign, Monsanto gave $8.1 million and DuPont gave $5.4 million, according to state campaign finance reports compiled by Ballotpedia.org.

In Washington, as of Friday, the Yes on 522 committee had collected $3.5 million in donations and, after expenditures, had about $2.6 million available in cash. The single largest donor is Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, which has given roughly $1 million.

A statewide poll released last week shows the measure enjoys strong backing among potential voters. Of the 406 registered voters surveyed in the Elway Poll, 66 percent expressed support, with only 21 percent opposed. The survey has a margin of error of 5 percent.

Jerry Cornfield is a reporter with the Everett Herald, a sister publication of the Mercer Island Reporter.

 

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