Big Food Illegally Hid Funders of Campaign to Kill GMO-Labeling Effort, Judge Rules

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A state of Washington Superior Court judge ruled on Friday that Big Food illegally hid $14 million in funds that were used to work against a Washington state food labeling bill. Big Food intentionally concealed who the backers of the campaign were and that, according to the judge, went against the “spirit and letter” of the law. According to Fortune.com, the facts are just indisputable.

The pre-trial ruling, by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Anne Hirsch, found that the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, the food industry group, violated the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws when it tried to hide the identities of the corporate funders. GMA had waged a fight against Washington’s 2013 food-labeling initiative, with $11 million in donations from PepsiCo PEP -0.65% , Nestle nestle-s-a and Coca Cola KO 0.20% .

 The state Initiative 522, which would have required food labels for genetically modified ingredients, was narrowly defeated.
 “There is one, and only one, reasonable inference that can be drawn from the facts before this court: that the GMA intentionally took steps to create and then hide the true source of the funds…from the voting public of Washington State,” the judge wrote.
So what happened? In simple terms, Big Food created a fund called “Defense of Brands” which was to be used to counter GMO labeling movements. “Defense of Brands” was quickly a big hit on the collections circuit, amassing $14 million in funds (that’s not suspicious or anything). The funds, of course, turned out to come from Big Food corporations who don’t want you to see what they put into your food because that simply wouldn’t be cost-effective. People knowing what’s in their foods means people are making more health conscious decisions. Big Food wants to hide as much as it can, and GMOs are somewhat the last stand for shady business practices.
So which Big Food companies did this? PepsiCo, Nestlé USA, General Mills, Coca-Cola, ConAgra, Campbell Soup, The Hershey Company, J.M. Smucker, Kellogg, and Mondelez.
Not an incredible amount of surprises here, but I did put Campbell Soup in bold for a reason.  Back in January of this year, they released a statement saying they support GMO labeling.  The reports were published on both the NYTimes as well as their site (here). So Campbell Soup essentially did a massive PR grab for consumers but had already handed over $286,000 to fight against GMO labeling using an illegal mafia style tactic.
Of course, all of this is bad, but Campbell Soup is the worst part. They funded an illegal campaign to fight GMO labeling. They supported attempts to hide donors and sources. They undermined the law, per a Superior Court judge. And they deceitfully sold more product based on their support for Mandatory GMO labeling, the sheer effort they just screwed over. It doesn’t matter that the donation was before the date of Campbell’s philosophical change, it is still bothersome.

Here is Campbell Soup receiving high praise on NPR back in January.

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Campbell Soup Switches Sides In The GMO Labeling Fight

In a letter to the company’s employees, posted on Campbell’s website, Campbell’s CEO Denise Morrison wrote that the company was responding to the desires of consumers, but it also wanted to avoid multiple and conflicting demands for GMO labeling by individual states. “Printing a clear and simple statement on the label is the best solution for consumers and for Campbell,” Morrison wrote.

Eloquent and inspiring PR from a company that just a few years before, participated in the illegal take-down funding of a basic health right’s bill.

Photo by ** RCB **


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