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GMO Labeling Backers Outspend Foes In Washington

KUOW Photo/John Ryan

Correction 8/22/13: A previous version of this story contained errors. It overstated the contributions received by the Yes on 522 campaign and the share of donations received from Washington state. The Yes campaign has amassed $3.5 (not 3.9) million, with 79 (not 71) percent of the funds coming from out of state. The nonprofit MapLight, based in Berkeley, Calif., informed us on Aug. 21 that it had double-counted some contributions, which led to the errors.

Backers of a Washington state ballot initiative to require labels on genetically modified foods have raised nearly four times more cash than their opponents.

Both sides’ contributions have come mostly from outside Washington state.

Supporters of Initiative 522 have raised $3.5 million in their quest to have genetically engineered foods labeled in Washington. Opponents have raised $952,000, according to the state’s campaign-finance database.

The biggest spender in the labeling debate is already known for labels of a different kind.

The company that makes Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps has poured about $800,000 into the campaign in favor of labels. The family-owned soap company’s eccentric labels are text-heavy and squint-inducing. Their barrage of words includes lines like:

"All-One! All-One! Exceptions Eternally? Absolute None!"

Now, Dr. Bronner’s labels also say “Yes on 522” in a much larger font.

On a video splashed on the homepage of the California company’s website, three grandchildren of Dr. Bronner's founder urge viewers throughout the country to support the Washington state labeling of genetically engineered foods.  

“Once that conversation starts to happen in Washington state, it can definitely be heard all over the country,” Lisa Bronner says in the video.

Of the money supporting the genetic labeling initiative, 79 percent has come from outside Washington state.

Of the money opposing the labels, 99 percent has also come from outside the state.

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The biggest donors to the No on 522 campaign include the Grocery Manufacturers Association (a food industry lobbying group) and companies involved in genetic engineering, like Monsanto Co., DuPont Co. and Dow Chemical Co., according to an analysis by campaign-finance watchdogs at the nonprofit MapLight  in Berkeley, Calif.

With ballots due in November, it’s still in the early days: Neither side has started its barrage of TV advertising yet, and much more money is expected to pour into both sides.

Last year, biotech and food companies raised $46 million in opposition to a similar food-labeling measure in California. They outspent backers of genetic labeling 5 to 1, and the measure was rejected by California voters.

If Initiative 522 passes, Washington would be the first state to require labeling of its genetically engineered foods.

Year started with KUOW: 2009