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Originally published September 17, 2013 at 4:20 PM | Page modified September 17, 2013 at 5:35 PM

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Food-manufacturer group sued over funds against GMO labels

Nonprofit claims grocery-manufacturers group should be disclosing which member companies are giving money to fight Initiative 522.

Seattle Times business reporter

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A nonprofit organization backing Initiative 522 has sued the Grocery Manufacturers Association, saying the industry group should be disclosing which member companies are giving money to fight the initiative.

I-522 would require labeling of food with genetically engineered ingredients.

The lawsuit says the industry association acted as a political committee to solicit and “launder” money from others whose identity is “illegally concealed.”

Moms for Labeling, the nonprofit listed as plaintiff in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Thurston County Superior Court, says that not identifying the individual contributors — specifically, the funders behind a TV commercial that began airing this week — harms voters. The nonprofit is represented by the Seattle law firm Smith & Lowney, which also acted as the agent to set up the nonprofit last week.

“These out-of-state food companies are hiding their campaign contributors just like they’re hiding what’s in our food,” Karen Andonian, a member of Moms for Labeling, said in a news release.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association’s members include big food companies from Bayer CropScience to Cargill. It did not respond to a request for comment.

The group has contributed $2.2 million to the campaign opposing I-522.

Other major contributors include Monsanto ($4.8 million) and DuPont Pioneer ($3.4 million).

For transparency purposes, Washington law requires that an organization register as a political committee if it raises money to support or oppose a particular ballot measure, said Lori Anderson, spokeswoman for the state’s Public Disclosure Commission. She did not comment on the lawsuit.

Organizations are not required to register if they contribute money from a general fund — for example, money collected from member dues and used for a variety of purposes — as long as the organization’s primary purpose is not to influence elections.

Once registered as a political committee, the organization must file regular reports showing who has contributed more than $25 and how the money is being spent.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or Twitter @AllisonSeattle.

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