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Published November 04, 2013, 10:50 AM

Campaigning for defeat

US food giants are pouring millions into killing a GMO measure.

By: Eric M. Johnson and Carey Gillam, Reuters

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Major U.S. food and chemical companies are pouring millions of dollars into efforts to block approval of a ballot initiative in Washington state that would make it the first in the U.S. to require labeling of foods containing genetically modified crops.

Despite early strong support for the measure, a recent poll suggests sentiment against the measure, known as I-522, is growing amid an onslaught of corporate-financed advertising ahead of the Nov. 5 referendum. Voters will decide whether many common grocery items containing ingredients from genetically altered crops should be labeled as such.

Supporters say labeling foods made from genetically modified organisms (GMO) would provide information for consumers to make informed shopping choices. Food and chemical companies say the wording would suggest something is wrong with gene modified ingredients that the companies believe are safe.

Many foods are made with crops that have been genetically altered. Corn and soy, two top biotech crops, are key ingredients in processed foods from cereal to chips to cookies.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents more than 300 food and beverage companies, has put roughly $11 million into fighting the measure, according to Washington Public Disclosure Commission figures.

That far outstrips the roughly $6.8 million raised by supporters of the labeling initiative, according to the commission.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, said in a lawsuit filed Oct. 16 that the grocery group illegally collected and spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of its contributors. On Oct. 30, Ferguson increased that amount to $11 million.

But the GMA and other opponents say they have corrected any finance filing irregularities and they are trying to turn back a measure that would confuse consumers and have numerous consequences.

A consortium that includes General Mills, Nestle USA, PepsiCo, Monsanto, DuPont and other corporate giants are the key contributors to the campaign against the bill.

Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company and top developer of biotech crops, has put in nearly $5.4 million to fight the labeling measure.

The companies say gene modified crops help farmers be more productive, and they say hundreds of studies show the foods from these crops are safe.

But critics say there are hundreds of studies showing that GMO crops are not safe for people and the animals who consume them. They also say the crops create environmental problems by encouraging more use of certain agrochemicals, and consumers should have the right to know what they are buying.

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