The state of Washington’s GMO labeling ballot initiative (I-522) lost by a narrow margin in the November 5th vote after agribusiness giants spent over $25 million to defeat it, with only $550 coming from Washington state residents.
The story is similar to last year’s California’s Proposition 37 that also narrowly lost after $45 million was spent by companies including Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, General Mills, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi. These companies are now facing investor scrutiny. As You Sow filed shareholder resolutions with Monsanto, Dow, and DuPont asking donors to the ‘No on I-522’ campaign to stay out of future elections. Other groups including Green Century Funds, the Environmental Working Group, and U.S. PIRG also filed similar resolutions. As You Sow intends to continue pressing Abbott and General Mills on the issue of using GMO ingredients in Similac infant formula and in kids cereals like Cheerios.
According to Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow, “By spending money to stop labeling initiatives, companies are sending a message to their customers that we don’t want you to know what is in our products. This creates material risk for investors based on negative brand reputation.” In July 2013, a New York Times poll found that 93% of Americans favor labeling of foods containing GMOs.
After consumer backlash against companies donating to stop Prop 37, many companies tried to hide behind the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) veil. But the Washington state attorney general called them out for violating election laws, and the GMA had to disclose where their millions came from. This let customers see which brands are trying to hide and has allowed investors to evaluate these companies’ policies and practices.
After companies spent over $70 million on these two campaigns, with 20 more states planning ballot measures, and Connecticut and Maine with GMO labeling laws, companies are seeing GMO labeling as inevitable. In a post-election interview, the GMA stated that they are now supporting federal GMO labeling laws to avoid the inevitable patchwork of state GMO labeling laws.
Learn more about As You Sow’s GMO initiative.