Politics Blog

Monsanto goes all Costco in fight against GMO initiative

The eight candidates for Whatcom County Council all have five-figure war chests and, for now, none of that unlimited "independent expenditure" money the national media told us to look for.

Really raking in the dough this election season are the pro and anti-campaigns for Initiative 522, which calls for labels on genetically engineered farm products and processed foods.

As reported by John Ryan at KUOW, Monsanto is the biggest contributor on either side by far, having just given nearly $4.6 million to the "No" on I-522 campaign. That brings the anti-522 campaign's donation total to $7.9 million, compared to $4.4 million for the "yes" side.

Shades of Costco in the 2011 campaign to privatize liquor sales, as Ryan pointed out in his story. Except Costco contributed quite a bit more than Monsanto has so far, according to Ryan: $20.8 million.

There's some evidence that Monsanto's prominent role in the campaign will have the opposite of its intended effect. I spoke to one person -- and I'm sure there are others -- who said they might have been on the fence on this issue but are more supportive of I-522 now that they know Monsanto is so much against it.

The biggest contributor to Yes on I-522, by contrast, is the squeaky-clean-sounding Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps.

PCC Natural Markets played an even more essential role for I-522, advocating for the initiative and helping to write it. While it's easy to contemplate Monsanto's monetary interest in keeping those stigmatizing GMO labels off foods, I also have to figure that PCC is incentivized to promote I-522.

Let's estimate that 1 percent of consumers will stop buying their usual products because of the GMO label. Those shoppers will need to go to alternative stores to reliably find the unlabeled stuff. Where will they go? PCC, among other places.

Some people are more sanguine about the disruption or lack thereof to the food industry and consumer decision making. For me, I believe there will be a considerable amount of upheaval. I don't know what Freddy's and Haggen can do if (when) I-522 passes, but the co-op is probably touching up its help-wanted ad.