Accountability and Transparency

With barely two weeks to go until election day voters in Washington won a victory this week even before they go to the polls to decide the fate of Initiative 522. According to an article published Friday in The Oregonian a major opponent of the GMO-labeling initiative bowed to pressure from the Washington State attorney general and agreed to disclose the names and contributions of major donors to an anti-522 campaign.

Washington State Initiative 522 would require the labeling of foods produced using genetically modified organisms, also known as GMOs. A similar ballot initiative in California failed in 2012 after a strong ‘vote no’ campaign funded by the food industry. With Washington voters scheduled to go to the polls on November 5 the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group, “agreed to make public a long list of donors to its anti-labeling campaign after being sued this week by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. He charged that the Association violated the state’s disclosure laws by setting up an internal fund that solicited money from its members to fight the initiative,” the newspaper reports.

According to The Oregonian, the GMA has put over $7 million into the anti-522 campaign, with almost half of that coming just from Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestle.

However you feel about GMO labeling, every voter should applaud the Washington AG’s efforts in this case. Transparency and accountability go hand in hand in our democracy. Just as voters need to know who backs both sides of a ballot measure if they are going to make an informed choice all of us have an interest in knowing how companies that affect our everyday lives are going about their business. When a company’s political activities help it to hide negligence or other conduct that has the potential to harm its customers we all, as a society, have a right to know. Transparency also enables consumer choice – another concept that most would agree lies at the heart of the American experience. When Washingtonians and Oregonians know what the companies that make our food are trying to do politically they can vote with their wallets as well as at the ballot box, supporting or opposing companies whose business practices match, or fail to match, their beliefs.

As a Washington and Oregon victims’ rights attorney this is an issue I deal with every day. Companies that put profits ahead of the public good need to know that they can be held to account for their reckless and negligent conduct in our courts. That accounting can only take place when we, as citizens, are fighting corporate greed and irresponsibility on a level playing field.

The Oregonian: Grocery manufacturers disclose big donors to anti-GMO labeling campaign in Washington

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Pepsi, Coke, Nestle top multi-million dollar campaign against I-522