The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

CNHI Specials

October 25, 2013

Monsanto bets $5 million in Washington State fight over altered food

SEATTLE — Monsanto Co. and DuPont Co., among the biggest makers of bioengineered crop seeds, are persuading Washington state voters to change their minds about a proposal to require labels on genetically modified food.

The companies are backing an anti-labeling campaign with $18.1 million - twice that of advocates for a ballot measure next month. The labeling proposal had a 45 percentage-point lead among registered voters five weeks ago that has narrowed to 4 points since opponents began advertising, the independent Elway Poll showed Oct. 21.

"This is a David and Goliath fight," said Trudy Bialic, a spokeswoman for PCC Natural Markets based in Seattle. Store shelves are lined with tags - "Non-GMO Project verified product" - on products from canola oil to granola bars, to reassure those who fear or distrust genetically modified organisms. "There's no way we can compete with the resources of Monsanto, Dow and DuPont."

Washington joined 26 states with proposals this year to mandate such labeling or to prohibit genetically engineered food, according to the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group. If voters approve Initiative 522, Washington would be the first to require labels. While Connecticut and Maine have passed labeling laws, they won't take effect until more states do likewise.

PCC, whose nine stores make it the largest consumer-owned natural food retail co-operative in the U.S., donated $423,174 to support the proposal. "Vote Yes on 522!" is at the top of its website and signs urging support are posted in store windows.

Monsanto, the world's biggest seed producer, contributed $5.1 million to oppose the measure as of Oct. 2, according to MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization based in Berkeley, Calif. That compares with $1.53 billion that the St. Louis- based company spent on research and development in the year that ended in August, when sales reached $14.9 billion.

 DuPont's Pioneer, the seed unit of the Wilmington, Del.-based company, is the second-biggest corporate contributor, at $3.6 million, according to MapLight. Dow Chemical Co. based in Midland, Mich., gave $621,000.

Monsanto and DuPont, the second-biggest seed company, sell corn and soybeans that have been genetically engineered to withstand weedkillers such as Roundup. They also make corn modified to produce an insecticidal protein that allows farmers to fight pests without applying more chemicals.

The two companies were the top donors in a $46 million drive last year to defeat an effort to require labeling in California. Supporters were outspent 5-to-1.

Advocates of the Washington initiative have collected $9.1 million, mainly from health and natural food companies, according to MapLight. The biggest contributor is closely held Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, the maker of organic cleansing products and lotions in Escondido, Calif., at $2.6 million.

The Organic Consumers Association, a Finland, Minn.-based advocacy group, is second at $800,091. Mercola.com, a vendor of vitamins and nutrition products based in Hoffman Estates, Ill., gave $500,000.

The Washington measure would require labels for most raw agricultural commodities, processed foods, seeds and seed stocks produced using genetic engineering. The World Health Organization definition is any organism whose genetic material has been changed in a way that doesn't occur naturally, including through introduction of a gene from another organism.

"Both sides are advertising heavily in what may be the most expensive initiative campaign in state history," according to the October report by Seattle-based Elway Research Inc.

In September, support for the referendum was ahead of opposition, 66 percent to 21 percent. After advertising on the issue began, support fell to 46 percent, with opposition rising to 42 percent, according to the Elway Poll.

The survey of 413 registered voters was taken Oct. 15-17 and has a margin of error of 5 percentage points.

The battle over genetically modified food comes as organic sales are expanding at more than three times the pace of total U.S. packaged foods, rising 10 percent to $29 billion in 2012, according to a Bloomberg Industries analysis. Agriculture companies argue that Washington's initiative would be costly and misleading to consumers, and isn't needed.

"Complicated and unnecessary labeling regulations would unfairly hurt Washington farmers, food producers and grocers, cost taxpayers millions, increase food prices and give misleading information to consumers about the safety of the products they know and trust," Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, a Monsanto spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Jane Slusark, a Pioneer spokeswoman, and Garry Hamlin, a spokesman for Dow AgroSciences, referred questions to the No on 522 Coalition.

"It provides us incomplete, inconsistent and inaccurate information," Dana Bieber, a coalition spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview. "If it's about the right to know, the proponents went ahead and exempted 70 percent of food that's even sold in the state."

The measure would boost food costs as much as $520 per year for a family of four from 2015 to 2019, according to a report last month by the Washington Research Council, a Seattle-based, business-supported organization. Farmers and food manufacturers would incur $264 million in costs to begin complying with the measure, the report said. The proposal exempts food served in restaurants.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a Washington, D.C.- based group that represents companies such as ConAgra Foods Inc. and Kraft Foods Group Inc., has raised the most to defeat the Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the association last week, saying it illegally collected and spent the funds while shielding the identities of its contributors.

The association set up a Washington state political committee and reported the source of its funds on Oct. 18, Janelle Guthrie, Ferguson's spokeswoman, said by e-mail. The industry group still faces a penalty, she said.

"While the GMA made the requested disclosures, there must be sanctions for violating the law and the case will move forward as filed," Ferguson said.

The Food and Drug Administration supports voluntary labeling by food manufacturers indicating whether their products have been developed through genetic engineering, according to the agency's website.

Scientific bodies from the American Association for the Advancement of Science to the World Health Organization have concluded that genetically modified foods on the market are no riskier than conventional foods.

Still, there are doubters.

"I like to know what I'm eating," Theresa Witherspoon, a 49-year-old Seattle housewife said in an interview outside the PCC store. "I'm not particularly interested in consuming things that have an unknown effect on your body."

Witherspoon, who said her sister died of stomach cancer, said she plans to vote for the initiative.

 "I'm not putting anything in my body that's going to potentially adversely affect me," Witherspoon said.

 

1
Text Only
CNHI Specials
  • barbour021614.jpg No shows escaped death by Craigslist killer

    The young woman who says she was driven by satanic spirts to commit a cross-country murder spree over the last six years says authorities are not taking her claims seriously and that she tried to lured other central Pennslyvania men into her death snare with online companionship ads but they didn't show up.

    March 29, 2014 1 Photo 2 Stories

  • ent_jimmyfallon.jpg Jimmy Fallon's 'Tonight Show' debut: Social media reacts

    Jimmy Fallon kicked off a new era on "The Tonight Show" Monday night and garnered mostly positive reviews. Here's a sampling of reaction on social media.

    February 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • b_tuesday_eisenhower_20110405sg3371.jpg Augusta National removes 'Eisenhower Tree' after ice storm

    A 65-foot tree named after the nation's 34th president on the 17th hole at Augusta National Golf Club was removed over the weekend after sustaining "irreparable damage" during an ice storm at the home of the Masters Tournament.

    February 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140218-AMX-GUNS171.jpg Will smart guns transform the gun industry?

    One of California's largest firearm stores recently added a peculiar new gun to its shelves. It requires an accessory: a black waterproof watch.

    February 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • ten-10-dollar-bill.jpg VIDEO: Groupon claims 'President Hamilton' promotion an intentional mistake

    Groupon says a President's Day promotion mis-identifying Alexander Hamilton as a U.S. President was an "intentional" humorous mistake.

    February 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Samoas, Thin Mints and business ethics

    But these lessons aren't learned when Scouts sell outside grocery stores or via mobile app, or, even worse, when parents ask their colleagues to purchase Girl Scout cookies, a query I recently received at a casual work lunch. My friend wasn't prepared for the lecture that followed. I'd be more than happy to buy cookies from his daughter, I said, but only if she called me on the phone to personally ask for the sale.

    February 15, 2014

  • Screen shot 2014-02-14 at 12.27.23 PM.png VIDEO: Just how easy is it to buy a drone?

    Businesses can't wait for drone rules to be issued by the FAA. They really can't. Estimates on business drone usage are in the tens of thousands...and they're overwhelming the FAA, which is still trying to come up with rules for flying them.

    February 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen shot 2014-01-14 at 4.42.12 PM.png VIDEO: Man falls through golf shop ceiling; everyone plays it cool

    After a man falls through the ceiling of a professional golf shop both the patrons and the employees react as though everything is completely normal.

    January 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • ClarkTheCub.jpg Clark the Cub takes his place among pro sports' worst mascots

    The Chicago Cubs have broken 138 years of mascot-free tradition by introducing Clark the Cub, who will entertain young fans at Wrigley Field beginning this season. Judging from reaction on the Internet, Clark instantly deserves a place on the list of pro sports' worst mascots. Here are our ideas for some other entries.

    January 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 4.09.29 PM.png VIDEO: Texting crash caught on dash cam

    A 23-year-old Florida man admitted he was texting behind the wheel when his car veered off the road and crashed into a tree.

    January 14, 2014 1 Photo