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U.S. food group faces legal trouble in fight over GMO labeling

By Carey Gillam

(Reuters) - A lobbying group for major U.S. food manufacturers continues to run afoul of campaign finance laws in the way that it has contributed funds to block a measure that would require labeling of genetically modified foods in Washington state, according to a statement issued Wednesday by the state's attorney general.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he will amend a lawsuit filed October 16 to raise the total amount he alleges the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) illegally concealed to $11 million, from the $7.2 million in the original complaint.

GMA represents some of the world's largest food and beverage companies and is lobbying heavily against the measure known as I-522 that is set for a public vote in Washington state on November 5. GMA is the largest contributor to the "No on 522" campaign.

The I-522 requires labeling of foods that are made with genetically altered crops as well as labeling of genetically engineered seeds and seed products sold in the state.

This measure would be the first of its kind in the United States and both the food industry and biotech seed companies, including Monsanto and DuPont, have poured roughly $22 million into a campaign to defeat it.

The attorney general earlier alleged that the GMA illegally collected and spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of its contributors. After the suit was filed, the GMA registered its political committee on October 18 and produced information about a portion of its member contributions.

But the attorney general said Wednesday that $3.8 million in contributions appear to have been collected by the GMA from its members before it registered a political action committee, and the contributions were not reported when it submitted its disclosure documents on October 18.

"These contributions increase the total amount the GMA received and expended on electoral activity in Washington without timely registering as political committee and reporting the full amount of contributions collected," the attorney general's office said in a statement.

GMA officials said in a statement that it has provided "full transparency" to voters in regard to contributions made.

"Every single GMA contribution to the campaign and the original source of those funds (including detailed lists of companies and dollar amounts) has been reported to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission," the group said.

The Yes on 522 campaign, which is pushing for labeling of GMO foods, repeated allegations that the food and biotech seed industry is trying to unfairly "buy" the election.

"It is clear that the GMA ... broke the law. Not once but multiple times now," said Delana Jones, campaign manager for Yes on 522.

As of Tuesday, proponents of labeling had raised roughly $6.8 million, compared to about $22 million raised by opponents, according to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission.

(Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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