GMO labeling campaigns get expensive as poll shows tight race

by: Natasha Chen Updated:

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As the campaigns for and against Initiative 522 pass the $27 million mark, the latest poll shows the race is too close to call.

Opponents of the initiative received $3.7 million on Friday from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the group sued by the state attorney general for initially not disclosing its corporate donors in the first $7.3 million they donated to the cause.

GMA said in a statement: "GMA, in cooperation with the Washington Attorney General and Public Disclosure Commission, has made public filings that have now resolved technical issues of ongoing full compliance with Washington election law. GMA hopes to reasonably resolve the remaining claims in the Attorney General's court filing in the near future."
Recent disclosure shows its top donors include Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Nestle.
"It has nothing to do with the No on 522 campaign, and [the attorney general], he's been very clear about that as well," said Dana Bieber, a spokesperson for the No on 522 campaign.

That campaign has now raised more than $21 million, while the Yes on 522 campaign has raised more than $6 million.

A recent poll by Elway Research shows supporters leading opponents by only four points, which is within margin of error. That's a drastic difference from six weeks ago, before No on 522 TV ads started running. That earlier poll had supporters ahead by 40 points.

Stuart Elway, whose company conducted the poll, said that those who said they were against the initiative quoted reasons seen in the TV ads.

As for the controversy over the disclosure of corporate donors, Elway said, "We rarely find a case where it moves very many people. Certainly the amount of money, the amount of exposure that this issue has in television ads has made a difference, but the source of the money has not - at least not yet - has showed up as an issue."

Both sides have many out-of-state donors. The largest in-state donation to Yes on 522 is $200,000 from the Organic Consumer Fund.

"That's an organization of tens of thousands of individuals. They're average Americans and Washingtonians that are supporting that. They stand to gain by everyone getting more information about our groceries," said Elizabeth Larter, the communications director for Yes on 522.

The largest in-state donation to No on 522 is $250 from a grower and packer in Othello, Wash.

Of the millions donated by large companies, Bieber said, "The funders of our campaign are really just the folks who support our farmers, and give our farmers the tools that they need to be successful."

Those companies include Monsanto, whose website explains that they produce seed brands and in-the-seed trait technologies to help farmers protect their yield.

Another large donor, Dupont Pioneer, touts products that help maximize productivity and profitability in the fields.

Bieber said that while farmers have not donated money, "The farmers have been sharing their time, their talent, and really getting the message out about how unfair this is for them."

Bieber emphasized the lack of consistency in what products are exempt from labeling and what products qualify as genetically engineered.

In addition, she said that increased costs for companies will be passed onto the consumer: "It's not about relabeling. It's about remaking the food, and that's what food companies will have to do, just for the state of Washington. They'll have to remake their food using non-GE ingredients, in order to avoid having to place a warning label."

The crucial difference in perspective is that supporters say it is not a warning label, merely a piece of information to tell customers how their food is processed.

Larter said that other labels tell customers whether salmon is caught in the wild or farm-raised, or whether something is artificially flavored.

"People just want to know more about our food. We can Google almost anything, but we can't look up any foods or even see labels in the store about which foods are genetically engineered," she said. 

 

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