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Monsanto Up to Old Tricks With Washington's Measure 522

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Photo from msdonnalee


On November 5, the voters of Washington state -- well, the normal skeleton crew of voters that show up in non-major election years -- will head to the boxes to punch in their decisions. Among the names of aspiring State Senators and Court of Appeals judges, will be the big decision they're really there to vote about:

Initiative Measure No. 522, which will determine whether or not the state will label genetically-modified foods.

If that gives you goosebumps, it's understandable. California's only one year removed from the fierce battle over the similarly-worded Prop 37. And, as you'd imagine, the folks trying to get voters to land on the "we don't want to know!" side of the ledger are the same ones that littered California ad spaces last time around: Monsanto and company.

(Also familiar: Those behind the pro-labeling ads, with Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps once again leading the charge financially and Chipotle making the press release rounds with bold statements about why labeling is necessary.)

(And actually, while I already have you in a parenthetical mindset here, perhaps it's a good place to note that the "Monsanto and company" phrasing I used above may be in need of an edit. See, while Monsanto has taken it upon themselves to act as the bullseye for anti-GMO sentiment over the years, the DuPont company's been playing an interesting strategy by purposefully lingering behind the hated Monsanto in donation numbers, using them almost as a human -- seeing as that's what corporations are! -- shield. The DuPonts were a clear second place in anti-labeling funding last year in California, and now hold the same distinction in Washington. And yet, since they're not the largest contributors, they tend to avoid most of the notoriety. So, let me fix that. The above should read: "Monsanto/DuPont and company.")

As far as what the anti-labeling people are telling the voters:

The campaign... argues that a family of four in Washington should expect to pay an extra $490 a year if front-of-the-package GMO labels are placed on as much as 70 percent of the products on supermarket shelves.

Sound familiar? It should. From the official argument against Prop 37:

37 forces farmers and food companies to implement costly new operations or switch to higher-priced, non-GE or organic ingredients to sell food in California. Economic studies show this would increase food costs for the average family by hundreds of dollars annually--a HIDDEN FOOD TAX that would especially hurt seniors and low-income families who can least afford it.

It's a tactic that's being used again up north because it's a tactic that works. Get voters thinking that a new law is going to hurt them in their bank accounts, and they're going to vote against that law nine times out of ten. The problem is, just like in California last year, the argument is full of nonsense:

"The reason for the higher costs," Kriss Sjoblom, research director at the Council tells Seattle Weekly, "is because the initiative will drive GMOs from the market and force food manufacturers to reformulate their products and reconfigure their food processes. Food manufacturers will have to go certified organic on all their products."

In other words, the cost of the products will rise because people will not be purchasing as many GMO-laden products, meaning the companies will have to spend money figuring out how to once again make money, and then passing along those costs to the consumers. It's like an auto mechanic saying, "I had to charge you double for the brakes, because not as many people have been buying them from me, because my brakes don't really work all that well. Sorry about that."

Last time out, as you remember, this argument worked, with 51 percent of California voters punching a "No on Prop 37" hole into their ballot. But will that be the same fate for GMO-labeling in Washington? The afore-linked Seattle Weekly piece ends ominously with this statistic:

So far, the Yes on 522 campaign has raised $3.6 million, while the opposition has pulled in $11.1 million.

But unlike California, Washington has a few causes for optimism. Most obviously is the progressive nature of the voters when compared to Californians, best exemplified recently when the two hot-button issues of same-sex marriage and marijuana legislation came up for votes. (Both passed by healthy margins.) Second, is simply the fact that the previous vote in California was only 51 to 49 percent, despite the massive financial leg-up that the "No" folks had. This time around, they'll still have more advertising dollars to spend than the "Yes" folks, but the difference may not be as drastic. And if all of their coffers could only buy two measly percentage points last time out, it doesn't bode well for their cause this November.

In any case: Stay tuned.

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