The initial law largely covered labeling only for foods introduced to Europe after May 1997, so the EU adopted a second law in 1998 "requiring all GM ingredients to be labeled," with a few exceptions, Smythe added.
Among foods affected under the 1998 law were those containing genetically modified corn and soy, various media reported. At the time, Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" soybeans -- a crop modified to resist the company's top-selling weedkiller -- were becoming an increasingly prevalent ingredient in processed foods.
Britain issued enforcement regulations for the 1998 law in March 1999, with violators facing prosecution and fines of up to 5,000 pounds, according to media reports.
GMO labeling was at the forefront of European politics for much of the mid- to late 1990s, in the fallout of Britain's mad-cow epidemic. While genetically engineered crops weren't linked to the disease, the mad-cow crisis heightened sensitivities about food safety.
A suspicious European public heavily criticized Monsanto for seeking to introduce new GMO crops and products to the continent and lobbying to proliferate their acceptance in the marketplace.
By 1998 -- when its pro-labeling ads first appeared -- Monsanto was pursuing applications to grow new GMO crops in Europe, while orchestrating a multimillion-dollar public-relations strategy in the U.K. to convince the public that its GMO crops were safe, according to media accounts.
In Washington state this year, Monsanto has joined with four other biochemical giants and the Washington, D.C.-based food-industry trade group, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, to bankroll the No on 522 Committee's opposition to the measure. Together, opponents have donated more than $17 million -- an amount that has shattered the state fundraising record for a campaign opposing a statewide initiative.
If approved, I-522 would require "any food offered for retail sale in Washington," with some exceptions, to disclose that it includes genetically engineered ingredients.
Labels would be placed on the front of packages or on store shelves when a product isn't separately packaged. Raw foods would be labeled "genetically engineered," while processed foods would be identified as "partially produced with genetic engineering," or "may be partially produced with genetic engineering."
Opponents call I-522 a flawed measure that would misinform consumers by requiring inconsistent and inaccurate labeling on otherwise safe foods, as well as impose increased regulation and grocery costs.
Supporters say shoppers should have the right to know what's in the food they eat, and that, in the absence of good studies showing the effects GMO foods may have on people's health, the initiative at least provides consumers with more control over purchasing decisions.
The pro-labeling side's largest contributor is Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, a family-run business that markets unconventional soap products that first gained popularity during the hippie movement of the 1960s.
The California-based organic soap maker, which also heavily donated to that state's failed GMO labeling proposition last year, has contributed about $2 million to Washington's Yes on 522 Committee. Thousands of individuals also have given small donations to the Yes campaign, records show.
Lewis Kamb: firstname.lastname@example.org or (206) 464-2932. Twitter: @lewiskamb
(c)2013 The Seattle Times
Visit The Seattle Times at www.seattletimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services