Regulation

The ‘Big Food Conspiracy’ Against Food Labeling

Some of the nation’s biggest food producers are facing a whopping $14 million lawsuit that alleges an “elaborate scheme” to secretly fund an initiative to kill a food labeling law.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) stands accused by Washington AG Bob Ferguson of illegally hiding the names of its donors. Those donors were funding the opposition to Initiative 522 — a law that would have required genetically modified foods (GMOs) to be identified on a product’s label.

The law faced a narrow defeat at the ballot box.

The GMA maintains it broke no laws.

“Washington law treats trade associations contributing their own funds as single entities for disclosure purposes,” it noted.

Documents were unsealed from the ongoing court case, which provide a behind-the-scenes look at the planning and funding of the GMA’s “No on 522” campaign. The GMA did, eventually, with much prodding, reveal its donors a few weeks before the vote. The move did not get much publicity at the time.

But now, with dollar amounts to go with names, the issue is renewing interest, as the public is seeing just how much some very household names were willing to pay to keep GMO labeling out of the market. Pepsi was in for $1.7 million, General Mills chipped in $646,000, Nestlé USA dropped $1.1 million and Coke threw in $565,000. Hershey, Kellogg, Campbell and Smucker’s were also on the list.

The legal issue is over an $11 million fund the GMA established in 2013 — the Defense of Brands fund — namely, for education around GMO food and for fighting labeling initiatives like the one in Washington.

According to the GMA, the fund was created that way to “provide greater budgeting certainty to the companies, while also shield[ing] individual companies from public disclosure and possible criticism.”

Which, according to Ferguson, amounts to a fancy way for big corporates to hide their involvement and avoid public comments on their lobbying choices.

The GMA says its actions were legal and has formally moved for charges to be dismissed.

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