WA Attorney General Sues Group over Food Labeling Initiative

Posted October 18, 2013

Washington State Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, filed a lawsuit against the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), alleging that the group illegally collected and spent over $7 million to oppose Initiative 522, which would require labeling of genetically modified (GMO) foods. 

Ferguson filed the lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court, alleging that the GMA solicited large funds from its members specifically to oppose the GMO labeling initiative, but illegally concealed the identity of those donors by failing to register and file reports as a political committee, according to a Seattle Times article available here.  The complaint is available here.

Ferguson said that unless the GMA immediately discloses its donors, he will ask the judge for a temporary restraining order to force the GMA to register as a political committee and reveal its donors.  In addition, Ferguson said the state will seek civil penalties and attorneys fees.

The state’s lawsuit cites an internal GMA memo in which leaders of the group planned their effort to fight I-522, while protecting its corporate members.  In the Feb. 18 memo, Pamela Bailey, CEO of the GMA, mentioned creating a new GMA fund, the Defense of Brand Strategic Account, “to combat current threats and better shield individual companies from attack that provide funding for specific efforts” and also specifically mentioned the need to “fight Washington state’s ballot measure.”

A GMA statement said: “GMA takes great care to understand and comply with all state election and campaign-finance laws and is surprised to learn that Washington state authorities viewed the association’s actions as improper.”  The group will review its actions and cooperate with authorities to “fully resolve the issue.”  Bloomberg Businessweek also reported on the story, here.

Washington Initiative 522 would require labeling for GMO foods and is on the ballot for the November 5 general election.  The full text of the initiative is available here.

A Washington Superior Court Judge recently dismissed a lawsuit against the “No on I-522” campaign and imposed a $10,000 fine against the plaintiff, a group called “Moms for Labeling.”  For more information on I-522 and the dismissal, a recent post from this blog is available here.

A recent article on “Non-GMO Labeling” by Staff Attorneys for the National Agricultural Law Center is available here.  For more information on food labeling, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.