Washington state sues lobbying group opposed to GMO food labeling effort

Published time: October 17, 2013 03:53

Reuters / Ints Kalnins

A lobbying group for major US manufacturers has violated Washington state campaign finance law while opposing a ballot initiative that would require labeling genetically-modified foods, according to a lawsuit filed by the state attorney general Wednesday.

The Grocery Manufacturers of
America (GMA) ran afoul of state law in collecting and spending
$7.2 million against ballot initiative 522 – which voters will
consider in November – while not disclosing the individual donors
funneling contributions to the organization, alleged State
Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

“Truly fair elections demand all sides follow the rules by
disclosing who their donors are and how much they are spending to
advocate their views,”
Ferguson said in a statement.

The measure would require the proper labeling of goods which
contain ingredients with genetically-modified organisms (GMOs),
as well as the labeling of seeds and seed products containing
GMOs sold in the state.

With over $7 million spent, GMA is the largest donor to the
“No on I-522” campaign. GMA and other opponents have
raised over $17 million, spending $13 million thus far, in the
effort to block labeling.

The “Yes on I-522” campaign has raised around $5.5 million
in support of the labeling. They believe it is crucial for the
public’s right to know what is in their food and say the labeling
is a positive move considering the numerous questions surrounding
the safety of GMOs to human health.

Ferguson’s office alleges GMA set up a “Defense of Brands
Strategic Account”
and asked its numerous high-powered
members to contribute money in an effort to oppose the ballot

In the process of spending the money, GMA shielded contributors’
identification from public disclosures, the lawsuit alleges.

GMA has a total of 300 member organizations in its ranks.

The attorney general is seeking a temporary restraining order to
force GMA to comply with disclosure laws. In addition, civil
penalties are included in the suit.

GMA claimed to be surprised by the developments, though it did
not say if it asked members to fund the drive to oppose I-522,
which would have required a political action committee and
disclosure of donors.

“GMA takes great care to understand and comply with all state
election and campaign finance laws,”
the organization said.
“GMA will review its actions in Washington state and relevant
statutes and continue to cooperate with state authorities to
fully resolve the issue as promptly as possible.”

Supporters of the ballot initiative pushed a similar claim that
was rejected by a Thurston County judge, who said the matter
needed to go through the state Public Disclosure Commission,
which Ferguson is representing in the suit filed Wednesday.

Washington’s consideration of a GMO labeling measure comes one
year after a similar measure was rejected by California voters after companies like
Monsanto contributed $44 million for “No
on Prop 37.”

Proponents of the California labeling measure only raised $7.3
million in defeat.

Monsanto has contributed about $5 million in opposition to
Washington’s I-522. Corporate giants Bayer, Dupont, BASF, and Dow
have also contributed to block labeling.

In June, Connecticut became the first state to pass a labeling
bill, though legislative requirements demand it would only go
into effect once four states – including one adjacent to the
state – passes similar regulations.

Copyright: RT