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Environment | Communities

GMO Labeling Backers Outspending Foes In Washington State

Backers of a Washington state ballot initiative to require labels on genetically modified foods have raised four times more cash than their opponents. Both sides’ contributions have mostly come from outside Washington state.

Supporters of Initiative 522 have raised $3.9 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. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps has poured about $800,000 into the Yes campaign. 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 urge viewers throughout the country to support the Washington state measure. Lisa Bronner is one of the grandchildren.

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

Of the money supporting the genetic labeling initiative, 71 percent has come from outside Washington state. Ninety-nine percent of the money opposing the labels has come from outside the state.

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 Maplight Foundation in Washington, D.C.

With ballots due in November, it’s still 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 five to one, 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.

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