In what is becoming a major battleground in the campaign to label genetically engineered foods, 66% of Washington state voters indicated they are in favor of Initiative 522 (I-522), the state initiative to label GMOs in foods, while just 22% oppose it. The GMO labeling bill will appear on the Washington state November ballot and in early voting. Also, a recent voter survey found that support in the state for GMO labeling is broad and deep, as significant majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans support labeling, as do majorities of every age group and every region of the state. And while overall support is at the two-thirds mark, 48% of respondents said they “strongly support” the Yes on 522 measure, while only 13% of voters are strongly in the No on 522 camp.
The findings are based on a survey of 1,200 likely voters conducted June 18 through 23 by GBA Strategies of Washington, DC. The survey was conducted using live dialers and reached voters on cell phones and landlines. The results are subject to a margin of error of plus-or-minus 2.8% at the 95% confidence level.
Bracing for the opposition
Notably, the poll found that support for labeling could withstand a barrage of opposition attacks. After voters hear one message in favor of labeling and six messages against it, support for I-522 holds at 64%, while opposition only increases to 29%, says the poll. Does this mean that the Yes on 522 bill can withstand being outspent six to one and still achieve victory on Election Day? Yes, say campaign leaders. However, they assert that this assumption holds true only if the campaign continues to raise the resources it needs to mount an effective television, radio, Internet and social media campaign. Additionally, those funds are needed now in order for the campaign to act this summer to reserve the best media placements for the fall at optimal rates.
A similar measure in California in 2012 also enjoyed more than 60% support early in the campaign, but lost by less than 3 percentage points after an onslaught of ads by Proposition 37 (Prop 37) opponents, who spent $46 million with heavy donations from the biotech, agribusiness and mainstream food sectors. But proponents of the GMO labeling bill say things may be different now in the Evergreen state. To date, the Yes on 522 campaign has raised more than $2.5 million with another $1 million in hard pledges committed, and has spent less than $350,000.
Industry leaders top “Yes on 522” donor list
Major Yes on 522 donors include: Dr. Bonner’s Magic Soaps ($700,000); Mercola.com Health Resources ($200,000); Organic Consumers Fund ($380,000); Presence Marketing/Dynamic Presence ($200,000) and Presence founder Bill Weiland ($50,000); Center for Food Safety Action Fund ($100,000); Nature’s Path Foods USA Inc. ($100,000); Annie’s Inc. ($50,000); PCC Natural Markets ($50,000); Mark Squire, cofounder of Good Earth Grocery ($50,000); Karen Swift, cofounder of the BioSafety Alliance ($35,000); Clif Bar & Co. ($25,000); Boulder Brands ($25,000); UNFI ($25,000); Lundberg Family Farms ($25,000); Stonyfield Farm ($20,000); Turtle Mountain ($15,000); Amy’s Kitchen ($12,500); and Freeland Foods/Go Raw ($10,000). There are a total of 628 donors to Yes on 522 to date. For a complete list of donors, visit http://www.pdc.wa.gov/.
GMA provides cover for “No on 522” donors
The “No on 522” campaign committee, which opposes GMO labeling, has reported raising nearly $1 million to date from just five pro-biotech interests including major pesticide companies and mainstream food companies via the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). The GMA, a trade group representing mainstream food producers, has so far donated $472,500 to defeat Yes on 522; Monsanto has donated $242,156.25 to date; followed by DuPont Pioneer ($171,281.25), Bayer Cropscience ($29,531.25), and Dow Agrosciences LLC ($29,531.25). To see the list of No on 522 donors, visit http://www.pdc.wa.gov/.
Notable, too, is that the “No on 522” group has committed about $110,000 to retain Santa Monica, CA-based Winner & Mandabach Campaigns, which has a track record of three big and recent wins in Washington. Brad Shannon, political writer for the Daily Olympian in Olympia, WA, said on July 14 that Winner & Mandabach has a “track record of winning high stakes campaigns.”
A shot at winning
“Nobody is calling it ‘Little GMO’ after California’s ‘Big GMO’ yet, but Initiative 522 in Washington State looks like it is on the same track as the Golden State’s ill-fated Proposition 37. Except it has a shot at winning,” reported Dan Flynn on July 16 in Food Safety News.
“The ‘Yes’ campaign is stressing the public’s right to know what is in their food, while generally staying away from claims that GMOs are unsafe to eat,” Flynn wrote. “The ‘No’ campaign will tell Evergreen State voters such labeling will just increase food costs without any benefit basis. Those were familiar refrains in the ‘Big GMO’ campaign,” he said.
In a letter to donors, Yes on 522 finance committee member David Bronner wrote, “Key in-state endorsements continue to line up, including Washington Conservation Voters, Washington Nurses Association, and prominent fishing companies and organizations. Key alliances are being built with wheat farmer, apple grower and salmon fishery spokespeople, and earned media continues to go our way. A perfect storm is brewing with the GMO wheat contamination compromising Washington wheat exports, and imminent FDA approval of GMO salmon galvanizing the fishing sector.
“The Yes on 522 campaign is night and day better than Prop. 37, as we’ve all collectively learned and improved our game,” Bronner continued. “But the bottom line is that we will lose like we lost Prop. 37 if we don’t step up and give I-522 the ammunition it needs to win the air war. Armchair hemming, hawing, complaining or otherwise being complacent about the amazing efforts and progress we are making as a movement is no excuse for not stepping up now in Washington when it counts,” Bronner urged.
Steven Hoffman, Managing Director of Compass Natural LLC, is working to raise funds and awareness in the natural, organic and sustainable products industry on behalf of the campaign. Compass Natural LLC is a Boulder, CO-based marketing communications, public relations and business development agency serving the $300-billion natural, organic and sustainable products market. Hoffman holds a M.S. in Agriculture from Penn State University, and has been involved in sustainable food and agriculture for more than 30 years. He served on the staff and steering committee of California’s Prop. 37 to label GMO foods, and is currently working as a lead fundraiser with the Washington State Yes on 522 campaign to label GMO foods. He is former Editorial Director of New Hope Natural Media’s natural products trade publication division, and former Education Director of Natural Products Expo, the world’s largest natural and organic products expositions. A co-founder of the annual LOHAS Conference for the $300-billion “Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability” market, and former Director of The Organic Center, Hoffman also served as Rocky Mountain Sales Manager and National Marketing Director for leading organic producer Arrowhead Mills, now a division of the Hain-Celestial Group. Hoffman is a returned Peace Corps volunteer, having served in agriculture education in Central America.