Major brands join food-labeling fight

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photoFood companies that have helped fund the campaign to defeat I-522, the food-labeling initiative. Source: Associated Press.

SEATTLE — Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Nestle are among the major brands that contributed to an effort to oppose a food-labeling initiative in Washington state, according to documents made public Friday.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association identified about three dozen companies that contributed a combined $7.2 million to help defeat Initiative 522, which would require labeling on genetically modified foods.

The association released the list following a lawsuit from the state attorney general's office. Attorney General Bob Ferguson has said the association improperly collected the cash in a manner that shielded the identities of the companies to protect them from scrutiny.

Pepsi was the biggest contributor to the cause, giving $1.6 million. The soda company was followed by Coca-Cola and Nestle, which each contributed a little over $1 million, according to documents.

Other contributors included General Mills, Kellogg, Hershey and ConAgra.

Ferguson said the agreement for the association to disclose the donors avoids the need to seek court intervention.

"The people of Washington demand transparency in elections," Ferguson said in a statement. "I'm pleased the GMA board recognized their responsibility to disclose the names of companies who contributed to opposing Initiative 522, and the amount of their contributions."

Voters are starting to receive ballots in what has shaped up to be one of the costliest initiative fights ever in the state.

Supporters say consumers have a right to know whether foods they buy contain genetically engineered ingredients and contend that the GE label is no different from other food labels. Opponents say that it would cost farmers and food processors and that such a label implies the food is somehow less safe.