by Deanna Pan
After $27 million and seven months of campaigning, it appears Washington won’t become the first state in the country to mandate labeling of genetically engineered foods after all. Early returns on Tuesday night showed Initiative 522 was failing statewide 45 percent to 55 percent. Voters had rejected I-522 in all but three counties — Jefferson, King and Whatcom. In Spokane, 62 percent voted against the measure.
Labeling supporters, however, were cautiously optimistic about their initiative’s chances.
“It is really too close to call. We have hundreds of thousands of votes left to be counted in King County alone,” says Elizabeth Larter, a spokeswoman for the Yes on 522 campaign.
No on 522 raised $22 million — more money than any other initiative campaign in Washington state history — to defeat the measure, thanks to multimillion-dollar donations from out-of-state biotech giants like Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer, and food-industry stalwarts from the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
After an influx of anti-labeling campaign ads hit the airwaves, an October poll showed that support for I-522 had dropped 20 points from the previous month to 46 percent. Opposition on the other hand climbed.
The Yes on 522 camp, meanwhile, raised just under $8 million. Although thousands of individual donors from Washington state contributed to the pro-labeling camp, the majority of its financial support came from out-of-state organic and natural product companies, such as California-based Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, which dedicated $1.7 million to the effort.
In California, voters rejected a similar ballot measure last year. There, labeling opponents raised five times as much as supporters.
“They took a tip directly from Vladimir Lenin — that a lie told often enough becomes the truth, and they used $20 million to tell those lies,” says Ron Cully, a Spokane volunteer for the Yes side. “I don’t think this war is over by any stretch of the imagination.”
On Tuesday, Washingtonians also handily rejected Tim Eyman’s “initiative on initiatives,” I-517, with 60 percent of the vote. The measure would have sent any state or local initiative with enough signatures to the ballot and make “interfering with signature gathering” illegal. Opponents argued that I-517 would infringe on the free speech rights of citizens who voice opposition to signature gatherers and the private property rights of business owners.