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Record-breaking sums of money pour into state's food labeling fight

Record-breaking sums of money pour into state's food labeling fight
People attend a "Yes on I-522" rally.
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SEATTLE (AP) - A group fighting food labeling in Washington state has busted the record for the most money raised by an initiative campaign in state history.

Largely financed by five biotechnology giants and a food industry group, the No on 522 committee has raised nearly $22 million to defeat Initiative 522, which would require foods containing genetically engineered ingredients to carry a label, the latest campaign finance records show.

Initiative supporters have raised about $6.8 million, mostly from natural food companies and others.

Opponents of food-labeling have received an infusion of last-minute contributions with just days to go until the November election. Monsanto Co. gave $540,000 on Monday to No on 522, bringing the company's total contributions to nearly $5.4 million. Monsanto is the second highest contributor fighting the measure.

A political committee formed by the Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturers Association is the top contributor to No on 522, giving $11 million total. About a third of that amount has come in the last several days.

The food group has collected money from the nation's top food and beverage companies such as PepsiCo Inc., Coca-Cola Co., Nestle SA, General Mills Inc., Kellogg Co., The Hershey Co. and ConAgra Foods Inc.

On Nov. 5, Washington voters will decide whether to approve I-522, which requires genetically engineered foods offered for retail sale to be labeled. Products would have to carry a label on the front of the package disclosing that they contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Supporters say consumers have a right to know whether foods they buy contain such ingredients and a GMO label is no different from nutrition and other labels. Opponents say it would cost farmers and food processors and such a label implies the food is somehow less safe.

Moriah Armstrong, 67, who lives on Orcas Island, has already cast her mail-in ballot in support of the initiative. She said she has been alarmed by the amount of money that initiative opponents appear to have spent on numerous television ads, campaign fliers and phone calls.

"Time and time again corporations are using their money to influence the voters. I'd like to see the little man beat out the corporations' big spending," said Armstrong, a retiree who gave $50 to labeling supporters.

Armstrong said she voted for the measure because she believes in transparency and that the public has the right to know what's in their food.

Doreen Wardenaar, whose family runs a farm in the eastern Washington town of Othello, opposes the measure.

"We feel strongly that it will add another layer to our bureaucracy that isn't needed and Washington should fall in line with federal standards," said Wardenaar, whose family grows potatoes, onions and fresh packaged sweet corn. "That would be an unfair playing field for Washington farmers."

Wardenaar, whose husband gave $50 to No on 522, said the influx of money from the big corporations doesn't help the cause. Still, she said: "I'm no attorney, but it just sounds like a mess to me."

She said she looked at the initiative and decided it would be expensive and would put Washington farmers at a disadvantage. The farm grows crops that aren't genetically modified, but they're concerned it would cost them money to prove that, she said.
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