Washington Initiative 522 (2012)

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Washington Initiative 522 (I-522) "concerns labeling of genetically-engineered foods" and was a 2012 initiative to the Washington State Legislature.[1] As certified by the Washington Secretary of State, it achieved enough signatures to be forwarded to the legislature for consideration during the 2013 session.[2] The legislature did not vote on the initiative, so I-522 advanced to the November 5, 2013 general election ballot. If passed into law by voters, I-522 would have taken effect on July 1, 2015. The initiative failed with 51% opposition.[3]

If approved, I-522 would have required that non-exempt foods and agricultural products offered for retail sale state "clearly and conspicuously" on the front of the package if they were genetically-engineered, contain or might have contained genetically-engineered ingredients.

With more than $17.1 million in donations opposed before September 30, I-522 set a new record for money spent against a state initiative, exceeding the $12.35 million spent in 2011 to oppose Initiative 1183, privatizing liquor sales.[4] By late October, No On I-522 had set the all-time record for any initiative campaign with $21 million. Combined contributions of $27.7 million are still less than $32.5 million spent by both sides around I-1183.[5]

Ballot title and summary[edit]

As described by the Secretary of State's office, the measure "would require most raw agricultural commodities, processed foods, and seeds and seed stocks, if produced using genetic engineering as defined, to be labeled as genetically engineered when offered for retail sale."

According to the official ballot measure summary,

This measure would require foods produced entirely or partly with genetic engineering, as defined, to be labeled as genetically engineered when offered for retail sale in Washington, beginning in July 2015. The labeling requirement would apply generally to raw agricultural commodities, processed foods, and seeds and seed stock, with some exceptions, but would not require that specific genetically-engineered ingredients be identified. The measure would authorize state enforcement and civil penalties, and allow private enforcement actions.

Full text of the measure is available online at the Washington state website.[6]


I-522 is approximately nine pages long and adds a new chapter to Title 70 of the Revised Code of Washington.

Section one includes more than three pages stating various reasons for the initiative, related to consumer choice, religious belief, consumer health concerns, environmental concerns, economic concerns and worldwide trends in consumer labeling laws. This section explains that 49 countries, including many significant US trading partners Japan, South Korea, China, Australia, Russia and the European Union have labeling requirement for genetically engineered foods. This section asserts that labeling will give Washington's foods a share of the multibillion-dollar lost market opportunity in exports to these countries.

Section two establishes various definitions, including section 2(3)(a) which strictly defines "genetically engineered" by specific genetic engineering techniques, and differentiated from selective breeding. These specific genetic engineering techniques include various recombinant DNA and RNA methods such as micro-injection, electroporation, micro-encapsulation, liposome fusion, protoplast fusion or other "hybridization techniques that overcome natural physiological, reproductive or recombination barriers, where the donor cells or protoplasts do not fall within the same taxonomic family, in a way that does not occur by natural multiplication or natural recombination."

Section three requires that "any food offered for retail sale" be labeled "clearly and conspicuously" if it contains genetically-engineered ingredients, with certain exceptions. Exemptions consistent with current federal regulations include prepared foods such as those coming from a restaurant, meat from animals fed genetically engineered feeds, alcoholic beverages and foods processed with GE enzymes.[7] For non-exempt foods, it would require "on the front of the package" the words "genetically engineered," "produced with genetic engineering," "partially produced with genetic engineering" or "may be partially produced with genetic engineering" stated "clearly and conspicuously."

Section four authorizes the Washington State Department of Health to "adopt rules necessary to implement" the law, with section five authorizing civil penalties for violations, section six noting that I-522 creates a new chapter for RCW Title 70 and section seven a basic severability clause.


Support for the I-522 was coordinated by YES on 522, a group that included food activists[who?], small-scale producers and several food co-operatives such as PCC Natural Markets[8][9] and natural food stores such as Whole Foods Market.[10] It was also promoted by the Organic Consumers Association, which called for a boycott on Safeway Inc. unless the grocery store company would withdraw from the Grocery Manufacturers Association and contribute financially to the Yes on 522 campaign.[11] In addition to being the single largest donor, Dr Bronner's Magic Soaps issued a special label in support of I-522.[12]

Other support came from labor groups including the Washington State Labor Council.[13] The Yes on 522 web page for endorsements lists over 350 businesses, 25 seafood groups, 150 farms, more than 100 other groups, 45 elected officials and many individuals.[14] As of mid-October, 2013, reported campaign donations showed more than 13,000 donors for I-522 giving $6.2 million with a median donation of approximately $25.[15]


Opposition to I-522 came primarily from large chemical corporations (Monsanto Company, DuPont Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences LLC, and Bayer CropScience), and organizations such as Washington Friends of Farms and Forests, Northwest Food Processors, Washington Association of Wheat Growers, the Washington State Farm Bureau and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, who rallied and mounted a $46 million campaign via Nestle SA, General Mills Inc., Coca-Cola Co and PepsiCo Inc to defeat the initiative.[16][17][18] These large donations have reportedly "shattered" previous fundraising records against any other initiative, a full month ahead of the election.[19]

Opponents of I-522 cited the editorial boards of fifteen different newspapers as opposing the initiative.[20] As of mid-October, 2013, reported campaign donations showed ten donors for I-522 giving $17.2 million with a median donation of approximately $545,827.[15]


Public records of initiative donations are listed at the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission website.[21]

Dr Bronner's Magic Soap Company was the largest donor in support, and the only pro-522 donor giving more than $1 million. The largest donation in opposition was $7.2 million of opposition money was identified as coming from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), details of which emerged after Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson filed charges against them for violation of state campaign-finance laws.[22][23][24][25][26] As of October 25, 2013, GMA had reportedly given $11 million in total.[27][28]

In 2022, GMA (renamed the Consumer Brands Association) paid $9 million to settle the charges, and apologized for the violations.[29]

State law requires the top five contributors to be listed. As of October 23, 2013 the largest contributors in support of I-522 are Dr Bronner's Magic Soaps, Organic Consumer Fund Committee to Label GMOs in WA State, Joseph Mercola, Presence Marketing Inc, and Nature's Path Foods USA. The top five contributors in opposition to I-522 are the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto Company, DuPont Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences LLC, and Bayer CropScience.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Reed, Sam; Washington State Secretary of State (2012), Proposed Initiative to the Legislature – 2012, retrieved March 14, 2013
  2. ^ Noble, Adam (February 1, 2012). "Secretary Wyman certifies I-522 to lawmakers". From Our Corner (blog). Washington Secretary of State. Retrieved March 14, 2013.
  3. ^ Washington Secretary of State (November 26, 2013). "Initiative to the Legislature 522 Concerns labeling of genetically-engineered foods". November 5, 2013 General Election Results. Office of the Secretary of State. Retrieved November 4, 2014.
  4. ^ Kamb, Lewis (October 1, 2013). "No on 522 campaign shatters state fundraising record for ballot measures". Seattle Times. Retrieved October 24, 2013.
  5. ^ Kamb, Lewis (October 28, 2013). "No on 522 breaks fundraising record for Washington initiative campaigns". Seattle Times. Retrieved October 28, 2013.
  6. ^ Reed, Sam (2012). "Initiative Measure No. 522 filed June 29, 2012" (PDF). Secretary of State of Washington. Retrieved March 14, 2013.
  7. ^ Kamb, Lewis (October 22, 2013). "Truth Needle: I-522 ads stretch truth on what would be labeled". Seattle Times. Retrieved October 25, 2013.
  8. ^ "I-522 Petition Supporters". Label It Washington. 2012. Retrieved March 14, 2013.
  9. ^ "PCC Natural Markets contributes $100,000 in support of I-522". Press Release. PCC Natural Markets. October 1, 2012. Retrieved March 14, 2013.
  10. ^ Linden, Rachel (January 10, 2013). "Whole Foods Will Ramp Up GMO Educational Efforts When I-522 Is Officially Approved For November Ballot". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved March 14, 2013.
  11. ^ "Organic Consumers Association Calls for Safeway Boycott". The Chronicle. 12 July 2013. Retrieved 2013-08-09.
  12. ^ Johnson, Nathaniel (October 3, 2013). "Dr. Bronner's soapbox: Working GMO labels into a lather". Grist. Retrieved October 3, 2013.
  13. ^ Connelly, Joel (October 10, 2013). "Labor supports Initiative 522, food labeling". Strange Bedfellows Blog. Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
  14. ^ Yes On 522. "Endorsements". Yes On 522. Retrieved October 23, 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ a b Minard, Anna (October 23, 2013). "Just Look Behind the Curtain: The Donor Lists for the GMO Initiative Say Everything". The Stranger. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  16. ^ Peters, Elizabeth (January 8, 2013). "NORTHWEST FOOD PROCESSORS ASSOCIATION RESPONDS TO STATE-LEVEL FOOD LABELING INITIATIVE". Press Release. Northwest Food Processors Association. Retrieved March 14, 2013.
  17. ^ Brown, Steve; Dan Wheat (February 2, 2013). "Petition for GMO labels goes to Wash. Secretary of State". Capital Press. Retrieved March 14, 2013.
  18. ^ "Wheat Growers Oppose Mandatory GM Labeling". Press Release. Washington Association of Wheat Growers. February 11, 2013. Retrieved March 14, 2013.
  19. ^ Kamb, Lewis (October 1, 2013). "No on 522 campaign shatters state fundraising record for ballot measures". Seattle Times. Retrieved October 3, 2013.
  20. ^ No on 522 Coalition (October 16, 2013). "Leading Washington Newspapers Urge NO on 522". Press Release. NO on 522 Coalition. Retrieved October 23, 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  21. ^ "Continuing Political Committees". Washington State Public Disclosure Commission. Archived from the original on September 7, 2013. Retrieved March 14, 2013.
  22. ^ Gillam, Carey (October 16, 2013). "Washington state sues lobbyists over campaign against GMO labeling". Reuters. Retrieved October 22, 2013.
  23. ^ Baker, Mike (October 18, 2013). "Coca-Cola, Pepsi among key brands that oppose Initiative 522". Seattle Times. Retrieved October 22, 2013.
  24. ^ The Olympian, "GMO fight: Attorney General sues to force No on 522 donor to reveal sources of its $7.2 million contribution", October 16, 2013
  25. ^ KGW, "WA AG sues food industry group over GMO initiative", October 17, 2013
  26. ^ Seattle PI, "Faced with lawsuit, Grocery Manufacturers Association agrees to disclose campaign finances," October 18, 2013
  27. ^ Le, Phuong (October 27, 2013). "No on Initiative 522 campaign sees influx of cash from food industry group". Associated Press. Retrieved October 28, 2013.
  28. ^ Connelly, Joel (October 30, 2013). "AG: More violations in No on 522 money". Strange Bedfellows (political blog). Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved November 3, 2013.
  29. ^ Jenkins, Don (March 2, 2022). "Food makers settle with Washington state for $9M over initiative campaign". Capital Press. Retrieved 2022-08-15.

External links[edit]