A group of mothers working to disclose donors of the No-on-522 campaign, which opposes genetically engineered (GE) labeling in Washington State, has been fined $10,000 plus attorney’s fees for bringing a suit against Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) for allegedly violating state campaign finance disclosure laws in Washington.
Washington State’s Initiative 522, which is on the November ballot, will require the labeling by July 1, 2015 of genetically engineered crops and processed foods. The grassroots group, Moms for Labeling, filed the suit against GMA and the No-on-522 campaign on September 17, asserting that GMA is falsely labeled as a top donor for the campaign, in order to conceal the identities of large out of state corporations who are against GE labeling. Last year, many of GMA members who contributed against labeling efforts in California prompted negative publicity and widespread consumer boycotts.
The lawsuit was initially dismissed on a technicality because the group —newly formed and made up of a handful of moms— violated state filing procedures by not waiting 55 days after giving notice of an action to sue. In dismissing the suit, the judge ruled that under the circumstances, only the state attorney general now has the authority to sue GMA for violating Washington’s Public Disclosure Act.
“We need Attorney General Bob Ferguson to step in and defend the voters of Washington from out of state corporations that are ignoring our law: The court said only he can do it,” Pam Johnson of Moms for Labeling told Seattle Pi.
Though that could have been the end of it, to add insult to injury the No-on-522 campaign counter-attacked using a state law that is designed to protect citizen groups from frivolous suits, also known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), by big companies. “Nothing like this has ever happened in Washington State, where a SLAPP suit statute has been used against citizens like this,” said Moms for Labeling lawyer, Knoll Lowney, according to The Stranger.
“The problem is, quite frankly, it’s really hard to know when corporations are abusing the legal process to intimidate activists. It can come in a lot of different forms. So when they write these SLAPP suit statutes, they’re pretty vague because they’re trying to encompass a wide variety of abuses by these corporations.”
The No-on-522 campaign has raised over $17.1 million so far. Monsanto has contributed a huge portion of funds (nearly $4.6 million back in September); however, GMA is the top donor at $7.2 million, which is $5 million more than it spent in California last year. GMA members include over 300 corporations, including Pepsico, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Heinz, Kraft, General Mills.
“I think it is outrageous that we are being accused of harassing big out of state corporations when really what we are trying to do as Moms for Labeling is, one, find out what is in the food we are putting on the table for our families, and two, (learn) who is paying for this campaign. It’s as simple as that,” Ms. Johnson told The Olympian.
GE labeling campaigns have drawn strong public support because consumers understand that they have a right-to-know the ingredients that are in their food. Though large companies have had short term success pouring money into state level campaigns, over time this strategy may help feed public opinion that these companies have something to hide.
GE labeling activists started other legislative campaigns in states other than Washington and have won several high profile victories. In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy signed House Bill 6527 - An Act Concerning Genetically-Engineered Food. This bill will require GE ingredients to be labeled when similar legislation is passed by other states in the New England region with an aggregate population of 20 million.
The Maine legislature also passed a similar law. Whole Foods Market announced in March that it would label GE ingredients sold in its stores, making it the first national chain to do so. Several other state legislatures have also introduced bills that would require GE ingredients to be labeled. In Minnesota H.F. 850 and S.F. 821 were introduced in February of 2013 and are still being considered by the legislature. In Vermont the House of Representatives passed H.112, a GE labeling law, on May 10. The bill is expected to be taken up by the state Senate in January when the legislature reconvenes.
The labeling initiative comes at a critical time for the state’s agricultural economy, particularly the apple and salmon industry, which are threatened from GE counterparts currently being considered for deregulation. Aquabounty’s GE Salmon, which are designed to reach maturity faster than their wild counterparts, and GE apples that won’t brown could have dramatic impacts on the state’s agricultural economy.
On a national level, the St. Louis Pots-Dispatch reported in 2012 on progress that multinational chemical corporations Dow AgroSciences, BASF, and Monsanto are making to bring multi-herbicide resistant varieties to market. Under separate arrangements with each company, Monsanto adds glyphosate resistance to seeds that are simultaneously engineered to resist other herbicides.
In October 2012, Dow AgroSciences obtained a global patent on its Enlist Duo technology, which packages an herbicide containing 2, 4-D and glyphosate with seeds engineered to tolerate both materials. Monsanto has also been partnering with BASF on dicamba and glyphosate tolerant crop varieties since 2009 with a focus on soybeans, cotton, and corn.
The explosion of GE crops on the market has led to growing pest and weed resistance, which has resulted in increased pesticide use. Increased pesticide use threatens wildlife, particularly sensitive species. A 2012 study found the herbicide Roundup, which is sprayed on thousands of acres of Roundup Ready corn and soybeans, to induce morphological changes in three species of frogs. GE crop-induced herbicide applications are also indirectly affecting the health of beneficial species. Widespread applications of Roundup destroy sanctuary land and the plant species that support beneficial insects and other wildlife.