Joel Connelly of the Seattle PI reports:
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, with a $1.75 million contribution Monday to the No-on-Initiative 522 campaign, sends a signal.
Big money spent to defeat a food labeling measure in California last year is migrating north to fight a similar proposal, I-522, on this year’s Washington ballot.
I-522 would require that foods produced entirely or partly with genetic engineering carry labels that it is genetically engineered when offered for sale to Washington consumers. The initiative would apply to most raw agricultural products, processed foods and food stocks, seeds and seed stocks.
A similar measure, Proposition 37, was narrowly defeated — 51.41 percent to 48.52 percent — in California last year. Opponents spent an eye-popping $46 million, five times as much as the $9 million budget mounted by supporters.
The big corporate players in the anti-Prop. 37 campaign are popping up in the campaign against I-522.
No on 522, and the Yes on 522 campaign, are reporting as of Tuesday roughly equivalent campaign war chests: Each campaign has raised approximately $3.26 million. But agribusiness interests opposed to the initiative have much deeper pockets.
Bayer Cropscience, on Monday, donated $591,654 to the No on 522 campaign. It put more than $2 million into the No-on-Prop 37 campaign in California.
Montsanto has given $242,156 to No-on-522. It gave a whopping $8.122 million to defeat Prop. 37. DuPont has donated $171.261 so far to defeat I-522, but gave $5.4 million to the 2012 campaign against Prop. 37.
With its big donation on Monday, the Grocery Manufacturers Association has now given $2.222 million to the campaign against I-522. It represents such major corporations as ConAgra, General Mills, Kellogg, Hillshire Farms, Pepsico and Coca-Cola.
The financial clout of major food interests has been felt before in Washington state. The American Beverage Association spent $16.9 million in 2010 to roll back a modest soda pop and junk food tax, which had been voted by the Washington Legislature with proceeds earmarked for education.
Beverage makers were not simply resisting a measure that added about 13 cents to the price of a six-pack. They were sending a national message of “Don’t mess with us,” to other legislatures considering taxing soft drinks as a way of closing budget deficits and paying for schools.
If the 2010 campaign is a model, Washington voters might expect to see:
–TV spots featuring a friendly family grocer, actually played by a veteran Hollywood character actor;
–Women actors and small business figures, talking to the TV cameras about regulations, taxes and labeling requirements leading to higher food prices;
–A “designated target” in the form of a young woman designated to talk for the campaign while its corporate sponsors maintain a discreet silence.
Voters will be making a serious decision. Genetically modified foods are defined as those using a genetic piece of another plant or animal to modify the quality of the good or make it simpler for a grower to produce. The initiative does not require that milk, cheese and dairy products be labeled.
Supporters of I-522 boast that they’ve received more than 5,000 contributions, 90 percent from within Washington. They site such local supporters as PCC Natural Markets.
But they are getting big bucks from California-based Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Iowa-based Food Democracy Now and the Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch.
The bottom line: The battle over genetically modified foods is coming soon to your TV screen. A Washington campaign is in the cross-hairs of major agribusiness interests, and national food manufacturers.