The state of Washington has filed a suit against the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the trade group for leading big food brands, seeking $14 million in damages in what the state alleges is an “elaborate scheme” that involved secret funding of a campaign aimed at killing a food labeling initiative.
According to the suit, GMA made efforts to hide the names of donors who funded its attempts to defeat the 2013 state Initiative 522, which would have enforced mandatory labeling on genetically engineered foods.
The donors included some of the most well known members of the GMA. PepsiCo contributed $1.7 million; Nestlé USA $1.1 million; General Mills $646,000; Coca-Cola $565,000; ConAgra $308,000; Campbell Soup $286,000; The Hershey Company $268,000; J.M. Smucker $260,000; Kellogg $239,000; and Mondelez $156,000.
“Late last week, documents were unsealed from the ongoing litigation, which reveal the planning behind, and the contributors to, the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s (GMA) ‘No on 522’ campaign,” reports Fortune. “Under intense pressure, the GMA did reveal the donors and contribution amounts just weeks before the 2013 vote, but the move — which got little publicity at the time — did not satisfy attorney general Bob Ferguson.”
The donations, which amounted to $11 million were marked for what the GMA named the “Defense of Brands” fund focused on lobbying and pro-GMO education efforts that included the campaign in Washington. The GMA said the efforts were coordinated in order to shield its member companies “from public disclosure and possible criticism.”
While the GMA contends it did nothing illegal—the brands’ donating were not initially disclosed because GMA worked as the face of the campaign.
But according to Ferguson, the plan was “an elaborate scheme to unlawfully shield its members’ contributions from public scrutiny.”
While the GMA continues to oppose state-led legislation for labeling genetically engineered ingredients, it does support the
“SmartLabel” proposed by the USDA that would allow consumers with an app on a digital smart device to learn more about a products ingredients by scanning a code on the label.
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