State AG pursues penalty against food lobby group

SEATTLE — Washington state’s attorney general said Tuesday he will still seek penalties against a food industry group that recently identified donors who contributed money to oppose a food labeling initiative.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson will move ahead with a lawsuit filed last week against the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Ferguson has accused the group of improperly collecting the cash in a manner that shielded the identities of the companies to protect them from scrutiny.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association has since 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 in Washington state.

Ferguson said in a statement that the case involved concealing a record-setting amount of contributions and there must be sanctions for violating the law.

“We must deter these types of violations and ensure our elections remain transparent,” Ferguson said.

No court date has been set in the lawsuit.

I-522 has shaped up to be one of the costliest initiative fights ever in Washington state, with many parts of the food industry contributing large chunks of cash to oppose the measure.

PepsiCo Inc., Coca-Cola Co. and Nestle SA each contributed more than $1 million to the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s effort to oppose the measure, according to records filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission last week. Other prominent contributors included General Mills Inc., Kellogg Co., The Hershey Co. and ConAgra Foods Inc.

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.

In California last year, voters narrowly rejected a genetically engineered labeling measure after opponents mounted a $46 million defense.

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Follow AP Writer Mike Baker on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MikeBakerAP

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