Ag Policy Blog

Agribusinesses Battle Biotech Labeling in Washington State

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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On Tuesday, the latest battle in biotech food labeling will play out at the ballot in Washington state. Voters in Washington will decide on Initiative 522, a ballot measure that would require clear and conspicuous labels on foods containing ingredients from genetically-engineered crops.

Regardless of the final vote, the fight over biotech food labeling is getting expensive for food companies and agribusinesses. MapLight, a group that reports on money and politics, cites that opponents have donated $22 million to defeat the measure. Virtually all of that money came from fewer than 60 donors. The top two contributors were Monsanto, with $5.37 million contributed, and DuPont Pioneer with $3.88 million.

Supporters of I-522 have raised about $7.7 million from more than 10,500 contributors. The top contributor is Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps with $1.84 million contributed.

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A year ago, a similar proposition in California to label biotech food was defeated 51% to 49% with 12.4 million votes cast. Opponents of the California measure were largely the same group of agribusinesses and food processors. They spent $45 million in that campaign.

A poll reported last week by Food Safety News showed the Washington ballot measure was seeing support erode. Similar to California's proposition, Food Safety News reported that the Washington measure is now a statistical dead heat.

The I-522 opponents have gotten some support from the state's newspapers. The Seattle Times, most notably, came out in early October against the measure. The Times said, "Shoppers want useful information not scare tactics." The Times called the bill a "clumsy, emotion-based campaign to require labeling on selective food ..."

Still, if you are adding up the costs, win or lose, that's $67 million spent to oppose labeling initiatives in just two states.

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