Election Day on November 5 brought a setback to the GMO labeling movement, as the state of Washington’s ballot Initiative 522 was voted down. The vote as of November 7 was 54% No to 46% Yes, though votes were still being counted. Earlier polls had staked the initiative to a sizable lead, but the gap closed as the election neared and many voters minds apparently changed. The initiative would have required foods containing genetically modified ingredients to convey that fact on the label.

Heavily influencing the result were well-funded marketing efforts, which used a variety of messages to try to sway voters in a repeat of the lead up to California’s GMO labeling vote in 2012. Proponents of the measure cited safety questions around genetically modified food and the consumer’s right to know what they are buying, while the opposition claimed in radio and TV ads that food prices would rise and that consumers would be needlessly confused by GMO labels.

The campaigns on both sides of the issue brought in nearly $30 million in combined donations, though $22 million of that total came into the “No on 522” side. Most of that side’s dollars were provided by out-of-state corporations that included Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and Dow AgroSciences, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which took donations from food companies like Pepsico, General Mills and Nestle USA and initially tried to conceal these sources.

The next battlefronts in the GMO labeling fight figure to include Oregon, where reports say groups will organize a similar ballot initiative in 2014, and many other states where legislators are considering GMO labeling bills.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, December 2013