As of yesterday afternoon, Washington’s I-522 GMO labeling initiative was failing in all but four of the state’s counties – leaving an estimated margin of defeat of 55 percent opposed to 45 percent in favor of enacting GMO labeling regulation in Washington.
Here are five reasons this battle was lost:
1. The money spent by big food won out.
According to information current as of October 30, the “No on 522” campaign outspent the “Yes on 522” campaign by 244 percent. Almost $13 million more was raised and nearly $12 million more was spent on campaigns to make sure Washington state GMO food products would not be labeled. The “No on 522” group – made up of firms like Monsanto, DuPont, Pepsi Co, Bayer Cropscience and Nestle, spent a total of about $22 million dollars, “setting the record for the most money ever raised – in support or opposition – for a ballot measure in the state of Washington.” Perhaps the craziest part of all the money statistics surrounding this issue is that only $550 of this $22 million was contributed from five state residents to the “No on 522.” The rest from the corporations.
2. The opposition touted that GMO labeling would make food more expensive for Washington consumers.
According to an editorial by the Tri-City Herald, the initiative would have been “costly and burdensome.” Other editorials in Washington state – including one from the editorial board of The Wenatchee World, stated that GMO labeling would cost “millions in regulatory expense for farmers and government,” while another editorial from the Capital Press stated that “[with new labels], the costs would be even greater.” Though, according to research conducted via the “Yes on 522” site, this is simply not true — “Contrary to the opposition’s claims, label updates are a routine part of business for the food industry and should not result in additional costs to shoppers.” The editorials were convincing enough to sway many voters, who cited fear of raised cost as one core reason to take down the initiative.
3. The “No on 522” campaign focused on shaping Washington state as the “odd man out” if GMO labeling was required.
According to the “No on 522” web site, “I-522 would mandate special food labeling regulations in Washington that don’t exist in any other state.” Other than costs, this was a main focal point for the argument. Many campaigns focused on the fact that, if I-522 had passed, Washington would be the lone state requiring this regulation even though both Maine and Connecticut passed similar initiatives. And isn’t this part of the whole point for passing the bill – that Washington could have become a trailblazer for the consumer’s right to know about food ingredients?
4. The argument convinced voters that GMOs are “safe.”
Even though there is no consensus that GMO foods are safe, the opposition to 522 harped on GMO safety and used “approvals” by major regulators to make its case. According to “No on 522,” “For decades, agricultural biotechnology has helped improve food crops so they resist disease, require fewer pesticides or are more nutritious. Today, 70-80% of grocery products include genetically engineered (GE) ingredients, and they’re deemed safe by the USDA, the FDA and major scientific and medical organizations.”
5. The “No on 522” campaign got farmers on board.
The campaign claimed that GMO labelling would, “Put Washington farmers and food companies at a competitive disadvantage by increasing their costs and discouraging them from using modern varieties of crops that are more resistant to pests and disease and require less pesticides and water.” How about making them pioneers in the name of safer food?
Among other causes, these reasons converge to form the bad news that the initiative is likely not going to pass.
But, with all of this said, here’s one reason we shouldn’t lament this loss for too long: even with all of the odds stacked against the initiative, it was a close race. 45 percent of voters voted FOR the initiative. And while a battle was lost – the war is not over, and troops are already forming again. There is a 2014 initiative in the works in Oregon. And, as David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, states, “Win or lose, this is a long war. Labeling is inevitable.”
Image Source: Romana Klee/Flickr