Out-of-state money floods campaigns for and against GMO labeling

Out-of-state money floods campaigns for and against GMO labeling

Credit: Getty Images

Research Biologist Heidi Windler takes tissue samples from genetically modified corn plants inside a climate chamber housed in Monsanto agribusiness headquarters in St Louis.

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by RUSS WALKER / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on September 10, 2013 at 12:10 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 10 at 4:04 PM

Most of the money raised by the campaigns for and against Washington state's GMO labeling initiative has come from outside the state, according to a review of campaign donations listed on the Public Disclosure Commission's website.

I-522 would require food and beverage companies to label products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMO). Labeling supporters say GMOs have not been adequately tested to see if they pose a long-term threat to human health or the environment, while opponents say science has shown no health risk from consuming GMOs, thus labeling would be a costly mandate about a nonexistent threat.

The latest campaign finance reports were filed just as a new Elway Poll was released showing the Yes campaign leading among voters, 66 percent to 21 percent.

The Yes on 522 campaign has raised about $3.3 million, according to PDC filings submitted Monday night. The campaign says it has 6,400 individual contributors, with more than 4,000 coming from individual Washington state residents or businesses. The PDC records list only about 2,400 unique donations from Washington sources, but Yes on 522 spokesperson Elizabeth Larter said many donations were for less than $25 and thus aren't always listed on the PDC site.

Washington donations to the Yes campaign totaled just $1.2 million, about  a third of the campaign's total haul to date. California donors gave the plurality -- about $1.3 million -- followed by $450,000 from Illinois donors. Most of the California donations came from organic farms and products companies, including major brands like Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and Clif Bar & Company.

Of the Illinois donations, $200,000 came from Mercola.com Health Resources, a maker and retailer of health and vitamin supplements. Its founder, Joseph Mercola, claims that some GMO foods are lacking in nutritional value and could harm consumers. He's criticized the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its work to engineer better seeds to benefit farmers in the developing world. Another $250,000 of the Illinois money came from William T. Weiland and his company, Presence Marketing Inc, a marketer of organic foods and health products to retailers.

Some of the largest donations from Washington state sources came from Nature's Path Foods ($150,000) and PCC Natural Markets ($100,000). But the largest ($480,000) came from the Organic Consumers Fund PAC, a group specifically organized to support passage of I-522 and which raised large- and small-dollar donations from individuals and other PACs in Washington state and around the country (most recently, a $10,000 donation from Frank Reuter of Arkansas). PCC also gave heavily to the signature drive that resulted in I-522 being placed on the ballot this year.

Meanwhile, the No on 522 Coalition has just five unique donors, each of which is a business or food industry organization. The bulk of the anti-522 campaign's $7.8 million warchest -- $4.8 million -- was contributed by Monsanto, a Fortune 500 company that sells traditional and biotech seeds to farmers worldwide.

Another large amount -- $2.2 million -- came from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade group representing large grocery chains and food companies such as Kraft Foods and General Mills. Bayer Cropscience was the next largest donor ($590,000), followed by Dupont Pioneer ($171,000) and Dow Agrosciences ($29,500).

The No campaign insists its small number of donors is not a reflection on the size of its statewide coalition. "Our large donors represent industries and companies who do business in WA.  Many provide jobs and/or have customers in Washington, and all, understandably, have an interest in supporting our Washington coalition of thousands of farmers, scientists, doctors, consumers, small and large businesses," spokesperson Brad Harwood said in an email to KING 5. Harwood pointed to a list of the coalition on the No campaign website.

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