What Really Happened to GMO Labeling in Washington

Written by Ocean Robbins

Monsanto and the junk food industry teamed up to shatter Washington state records. They dumped more than $22 million into fighting against GMO labeling. Exactly $550 of those dollars came from inside Washington State. This was a classic example of out-of-state corporate interests pouring massive money into maintaining control of our food systems.

And based on returns so far, it looks like a campaign full of misleading ads and laundered money may have done the trick.

There are still hundreds of thousands of votes to be counted, and it will be several days before we have the final results. But with over half of the ballots counted, the “no” side was winning with over 54% of the vote.

The pattern in Washington has been very similar to what happened to California’s proposition 37 a year ago. Early polling found the initiative way ahead – consistent with national polls which find that a huge majority of the American public supports labeling of GMOs.

But then the misleading ads started pouring in.

The anti-labeling ads that blanketed Washington’s air waves recycled the same themes, and even some of the same content, that had been found most effective in California. They also included some extremely dubious statements.

For example, the “no” ads told consumers that this initiative would increase food prices by an average of $350-$400 per family per year. But Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) determined that this statement was untrue, and that this initiative would not raise the price of food.

The “no” ads told Washington voters that Initiative 522 contained all sorts of exemptions and special interest loopholes. And it is true that there were exemptions in the law for restaurant and medical foods. But these exemptions, far from being special interest loopholes, are consistent with generally recognized labeling standards practiced nationally and globally. Are we really supposed to believe that the “no” campaign thought the trouble with I-522 was that it was not strict enough?

The largest single donor to the “no” campaign, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), is currently facing a money laundering lawsuit from the state Attorney General. They channeled more than $11 million into this effort, and tried to hide their actual donors from the public. It would appear that companies like Coke and Pepsi wanted to keep us all in the dark, but did not want to face a consumer backlash so they tried to use the GMA as a cover.

The attorney general’s lawsuit generated some degree of disclosure, but the damage from millions of dollars in outside spending of laundered money had been done, and the legal proceedings, which seek punitive damages, will not be complete until months after the election is long finished.

What the GMA’s shenanigans tell us is that a growing body of companies fear consumer backlash if they oppose GMO labeling. Monsanto may not care, since they don’t sell directly to the consumer anyways. But with a lot of “natural” brands like Odwalla, Kashi and Naked Juice owned by companies like Coke, Kellogg and Pepsi, there is a growing fear that boycotts could hit their bottom line.

The non-GMO certified food sector has grown from nothing to $3.5 billion in sales in just the last three years. Whole Foods has reported a sales bump of 15 percent to 30 percent when products are certified non-GMO.

Consumer pressure, then, may be able to accomplish what ballot initiatives have not yet achieved. If non-GMO products can establish a stronger footing in the marketplace, and if companies (including “natural” brands) face boycotts when they or their parent corporations attempt to keep consumers in the dark, then the tide could turn very quickly.

Here’s an infographic highlighting some of the top companies that opposed, and supported, GMO labeling in the state of Washington.

Labeling initiatives are underway in at least 20 more states. Monsanto and the junk food industry may have managed to keep Washington voters in the dark a little longer. But it is going to be hard keep convincing the American people that we don’t want to know how our food was produced.

“Win or lose, this is a long war,” said David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, the initiative’s biggest donor. “Labeling is inevitable.”

Ocean Robbins is co-author of Voices of the Food Revolution, and serves as adjunct professor for Chapman University and CEO and co-host (with best-selling author John Robbins) of the 100,000+ member Food Revolution Network. Find out more, and join the Food Revolution Network, here.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim V11 months ago

thanks for the article.

Jim Ven
Jim Vabout a year ago

thanks for the article.

Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa3 years ago

Thank you

Kyle N.
Kyle N3 years ago

A.F. We have been using GMO in soybeans for 20 years now, been through many years of research before release. There has been no change, no issues related to it. artificial ingredients such as aspertame are found to trigger diabetes, cancer can be caused by anything, but tobacco remains the leading cause of cancer. I know a long list of GMO items now, GMO Labeling is pointless because basically every item containing any soy, corn, canola or cotton product contains it. If you think GMO can be segregated from NON GMO, it is not likely to occur. It is much too expensive to do, the cost to final product could add 20-35%, Just assume any product contains at least some or all GMO. Not worth the cost of labeling.

Angela Roquemore
Angela Roquemore3 years ago

Carol P.: Never.

A.F.: Interesting.

If there's nothing wrong with GMOs, then why the frakking hell are companies like MONSANTO so adamantly opposed to the labeling laws? Kind of makes you think, I hope... .

Christine W.
Christine W3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

A F.
Athena F3 years ago

>> continued>> it's probably NOT going to be good. My opinion. My choice. (Helluva typo there without the NOT) Sorry!

A F.
Athena F3 years ago

>> continued>> it's probably going to be good. My opinion. My choice.

If it's labelled, YOU still have the choice and freedom to buy it for yourself, probably saving money doing so too since they're going to make it cheap and push it everywhere, so YOU don't lose by the labelling. You still win. Just let those of us who want the information have it.

If any of you feel the way I do, please call, write, start petitions, raise awareness any way you can. Do not give up! :)

A F.
Athena F3 years ago

Anyone who tells you GMOs are safe either profits by it, doesn't have any common sense, or doesn't have the facts. I'm only going to address one of those issues here, common sense.

If you look at everything else we have unleashed on the world without testing it (Or even knowing what to test for) for MANY years, like pharmaceuticals, like building materials, etc. you will see that 10, 20, 50 years down the road, we FINALLY realize... Ohhhhhhh.. THAT'S what's been causing that horrible stuff to happen. THAT'S why those people have diabetes, or cancer, or mesothelioma. Ohh. Oops?

The people who say it's proven GMOs are safe simply don't have the data yet to make the claim. Period.

I am not here to try to claim they are definitely unsafe either, since again, not enough time/testing has passed to have any actual quality information at all. I DO know my gut tells me it's a bad idea, and I want to avoid it as much as possible. My gut tells me it's my right to know what the heck I'm paying for, and what I'm putting in my body. That's just common sense.

This isn't about what little results we've seen (or the ones wev'e been lied to about), this is about choice and being informed. I personally don't care if they have 20 years of testing and don't prove there are any problems from it, since they simply don't have the resources to test for EVERYTHING.

I still personally want to avoid it because I do believe many years from now, we'll learn much more than we know now and

Lindsay Barclay
Lindsay Barclay3 years ago