GMO initiative

The Washington Supreme Court heard arguments Oct. 22 on whether an $18 million fine levied against foodmakers over a GMO labeling initiative was excessive.

A Washington appeals court today overturned a record-setting $18 million judgment against the Grocery Manufacturers Association, ruling that a lower court erred in tripling the penalty for failing to disclose the food and beverage companies that contributed to a campaign in 2012 to defeat a GMO-labeling initiative.

The three-judge panel upheld the trade association’s conviction for violating the state’s campaign, but said Thurston County Superior Court Judge Anne Hirsch’s penalty was faulty.

Hirsch levied a $6 million fine and tripled it, ruling the trade association intentionally engaged in conduct that she determined after a bench trial broke the law. Hirsch ruled that it didn’t matter whether the association knew beforehand it was breaking the law.

The appeals court rejected that position and sent the case back to Hirsch for further deliberations on whether the penalty should be tripled.

The fine imposed by Hirsch was the largest ever in the U.S. for a campaign-related violation.

Initiative 522 would have required labels on most food and drinks with genetically modified ingredients. The campaign was the most expensive in state history. The initiative was narrowly defeated.

The grocery association contributed about $11 million to the “no” campaign.

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