GMO Labeling Battle Heats Up in Washington State

The battle for GMO labels is heating up in Washington state where 350,000 signatures have put it on November’s ballot.

Last year, San Juan County, Washington banned growing GMO crops with 61% of the vote. 

On GMO labels, a recent voter survey shows strong support for the measure, with 66% saying they support I-522, which would label GMOs in food sold in the state. Just 22% oppose it. 44% "strongly" support; 13% "strongly" oppose it. 

The survey shows widespread support among people of all parties, from every age group and from all corners of the state.

Importantly, the survey finds these views can withstand a barrage of attacks from special interests. After voters hear one message in favor of labeling and six messages against, support for I-522 holds at 64%, while opposition only increases to 29%.

But the same strong support was there for California’s referendum, which ended up failing because of special interest spending. It lost by just 3 percentage points after an onslaught of deceptive ads – $46 million with heavy donations from the biotech, agribusiness and mainstream food sectors.

Connecticut is the first state to pass GMO-labeling legislation, but other states other states have been stymied by threats of lawsuits by Monsanto. On the federal level, it has been voted down twice in the US Senate.

Here’s what a GMO label looks like in the Netherlands:

GMO Label

In Washington, pro-GMO labeling groups believe they can win if they can continue to raise the money needed for effective television, radio, Internet and social media campaigns. They need to reserve those media placements this summer to get decent rates.

To date, the Yes on 522 campaign has raised over $2.5 million and has another $1 million in hard pledges, and has spent less than $350,000.

Which Industry Leaders Support "Yes on 522"? Major donors include many of the organic industry’s iconic leaders: 

  • Dr. Bonner’s Magic Soaps -$700,000
  • Health Resources – $200,000
  • Organic Consumers Fund – $380,000
  • Presence Marketing/Dynamic Presence – $200,000
  • Presence founder Bill Weiland -$50,000
  • Center for Food Safety Action Fund -$100,000
  • Nature’s Path Foods USA Inc. – $100,000
  • Annie’s Inc. -$50,000
  • PCC Natural Markets -$50,000
  • Mark Squire, cofounder of Good Earth Grocery -$50,000
  • Karen Swift, cofounder of BioSafety Alliance – $35,000
  • Clif Bar & Co. – $25,000
  • Boulder Brands – $25,000
  • United Natural Foods -$25,000
  • Lundberg Family Farms – $25,000
  • Stonyfield Farm – $20,000
  • Turtle Mountain – $15,000
  • Amy’s Kitchen – $12,500
  • Freeland Foods/Go Raw – $10,000

There are 628 donors to Yes on 522 to date. Here’s a complete list.  Although Whole Foods is in the process of labeling its foods, it has yet to step up as a major donor.

Donors Attempting to Block GMO Labels – "No on 522" 

The opposition has purportedly raised $1 million so far and from just five pro-GMO interests, including major pesticide companies, and mainstream food companies via the Grocery Manufacturers Association. You can be sure they will raise much more.

The "No on 522" group has committed about $110,000 to retain Winner & Mandabach Campaigns, which has a track record of winning campaigns. three big and recent wins in Washington. Brad Shannon, political writer for the Daily Olympian in Olympia, WA, said on July 14 that Winner & Mandabach has a "track record of winning high stakes campaigns."

Here’s the full list. 

"A Shot at Winning"

"The ‘Yes’ campaign is stressing the public’s right to know what is in their food, while generally staying away from claims that GMOs are unsafe to eat," says Dan Flynn in Food Safety News.  "The ‘No’ campaign will use similar arguments that won in California – that labeling will make food cost more and won’t provide any benefits, he says.

In a letter to donors, David Bronner, who serves on the "Yes on 522" finance committee says, "Key in-state endorsements continue to line up, including Washington Conservation Voters, Washington Nurses Association, and prominent fishing companies and organizations. Key alliances are being built with wheat farmer, apple grower and salmon fishery spokespeople, and earned media continues to go our way. A perfect storm is brewing with the GMO wheat contamination compromising Washington wheat exports, and imminent FDA approval of GMO salmon galvanizing the fishing sector.

"The Yes on 522 campaign is night and day better than Prop. 37, as we’ve all collectively learned and improved our game. But the bottom line is that we will lose like we lost Prop. 37 if we don’t step up and give I-522 the ammunition it needs to win the air war. Armchair hemming, hawing, complaining or otherwise being complacent about the amazing efforts and progress we are making as a movement is no excuse for not stepping up now in Washington when it counts," Bronner urged donors.

You can contribute to Yes on 522 here or contact Steven Hoffman, director of Compass Natural Marketing, who is raising funds and awareness in the natural, organic and sustainable products industry on behalf of the campaign.


This article is an adapted from Steven Hoffman’s, which was published in the July 2013 Presence Marketing / Dynamic Presence newsletter. 

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Comments on “GMO Labeling Battle Heats Up in Washington State”

  1. davidL

    You can also visit volunteers for I-522 on Facebook.Volunteers for I-522 are dedicated to educating voters on this Initiative.


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