Campaign Finance in GMO Labeling

     The American people have been advocating for the labeling of Genetically Engineered (GE) foods but their voices and efforts have continually been drowned out by the lobbying and political power of corporations like Monsanto and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

    This November, the people of Washington State vote on I-522, “An Act Relating to [the] disclosure of foods produced through genetic engineering,” as written in the Initiative Measure. Based on recent surveys, Washington is sure to pass I-522. However, after considering the failure of similar initiatives (like Proposition 37 in California) and the spending power of the corporations in opposition to it (such as Monsanto and BIO), certainty quickly fades.

    Polls continually show that the American people support the labeling of GE foods. One executed last spring by YouGov, an international research firm based in the UK, showed 82% of Americans in favor of labeling Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Another conducted in June by ABC News found that 93% Americans are pro GMO labeling. And section 1 of the Initiative Measure states that, “Polls consistently show that the vast majority of the public, typically more than ninety percent, wants to know if their food was produced using genetic engineering.”

    Brad Shannon of the Olympian reported on a study executed by GBA strategies that said 66% of Washington voters support I-522 while 22% oppose it. However, the Organic Consumers Fund’s website cited polls showing that over 80% of California residents supported labeling GMOs back in 2012 before the proposition failed.

     As Time magazine journalist Alexandra Sifferlin noted, Proposition 37, California’s version of I-522, quickly changed from a food issue to a political one, “with grassroots-based food purists supporting the measure and a well-funded agriculture and industry opposition campaigning against its passage.” Stacy Finz of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that opponents to Prop. 37 raised $45 million while the grass-root supporters raised just under $7 million.

    Large industries and corporations, like BIO, are typically able to spend more in campaigning and lobbying expenditures than grassroots-movements. Data collected by Open Secrets, a non-profit dedicated to tracking money in U.S. politics, reveals that the Agriculture Services & Products Industry (which includes corporations like Monsanto and BIO), spends over $650 million per year in lobbying expenditures, dating from 2007. BIO alone has spent over $5 million in 2013 (so far) and spent over $7 million in 2012.

    International Business Times journalist, Connor Adams, wrote about the effect of such lobbying expenditures. He reported on Monsanto’s success in “neutering” the GMO labeling law in Connecticut–the law was passed but cannot take effect until 4 other states, at least one boarding Connecticut, pass “similar laws.”

    While polls consistently show a broad support for GMO labeling, and that the majority of Washington voters are in support of I-522, the Initiative Measure is far from being passed. As previous propositions, such as prop. 37 in California and Connecticut, have shown, the corporations checkbook can be very powerful; and there is no lack of influential money in Washington at the moment. “Chemical and agribusiness powerhouse Monsanto has just invested $4.5 million to defeat the I-522 campaign,” CFS (Center for Food Safety) wrote in an article published September 10th, 2013. They also noted in an article published september 18th, 2013, that, “groups opposed to the labeling of genetically modified food products are outraising pro-consumer rights groups nearly four to one.”

    Supreme Court Justice Stevens warned of this in his dissenting opinion on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, “their [corporations] interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure, and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legiti­mate concerns about their role in the electoral process.” As corporations gain more and more power in the political arena they will continually put their interests in front of the peoples as they are currently doing with GMO labeling.

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Author: Ty Joseph Hranac

Contact: ty.hranac@gmail.com or hranac@oxy.edu Profile photo by Adrianna Housman.

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