Oct. 09--Trivia time for Washington voters:
Which big campaign donor in this year's battle over Initiative 522 -- the ballot measure to require labels on genetically engineered food -- once declared its "full backing" of food labeling in Britain?
Here's a hint: In the late 1990s, the company advertised to consumers in the United Kingdom: "We believe you should be aware of all the facts before making a purchase."
Thinking Whole Foods? Guess again.
The answer is Monsanto, one of the world's largest producers of genetically engineered seeds and herbicides, and one of the top contributors to the No on 522 Committee now trying to defeat the Washington initiative.
In September, the St. Louis-based biochemical giant dropped a single contribution of $4.2 million into the No on 522 Committee's campaign account, after spending $8.1?million last year to help defeat a similar ballot measure in California.
But for a time in the late 1990s, Monsanto touted its support for disclosing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in foods sold in the U.K., including in separate ads that featured a genetically engineered potato and a strawberry.
"Recently you may have noticed a label appearing on some of the food in your supermarket," one advertisement said. "This is to inform you about the use of biotechnology in food.
"Monsanto fully supports UK food manufacturers and retailers in their introduction of these labels. We believe you should be aware of all the facts before making a purchase."
Tom Helscher, Monsanto's corporate spokesman, said in an email to The Seattle Times last week that such ads didn't support compulsory labeling, but rather "the voluntary effort of retailers to provide information which they believed would be of interest to their customers."
"Labeling was not mandatory in the UK at the time," Helscher said. "Fast forward to 2013 -- Monsanto continues to support the right of retailers and food companies to label their products voluntarily to meet the needs of their customers, but we strongly oppose Initiative 522."
But, according to U.K. health officials, the European Union did, in fact, require some GMO labeling in 1998 and 1999 -- when Helscher said Monsanto's advertisements ran.
"The first EU controls on GM (genetically modified) foods came into force in 1997, as part of a wider framework for regulating 'novel foods,'?" Bradley Smythe, a spokesman for the UK'sFood Standards Agency, said in an email last week.