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PepsiCo, General Mills, and More Big Brands Spent Millions in Hidden Campaign to Thwart GMO Labeling

The state of Washington is suing the food industry group that attempted to keep the brands' identities a secret.

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The debate over GMO labeling shows no signs of slowing: Consumers are shown to be overwhelmingly in favor of mandatory food labels that disclose the presence of genetically modified organisms, as major food manufacturers lobby Congress to ensure that such measures remain voluntary.

And newly revealed documents show just how far the food industry is willing to go in order to ensure they don't have to slap GMO labels on their products. Corporations including PepsiCo, General Mills, Nestle, and Coca-Cola funneled $11 million to a food industry group called the Grocery Manufacturers Association to successfully defeat a 2013 food labeling initiative in the state of Washington, reports Fortune. Big brands shelling out cash to lobbying groups is nothing new or shocking, but in this case, the GMA kept the brands' identities a secret in order to protect them from public scrutiny.

The state of Washington is now filing a lawsuit against the GMA; per the Seattle Times, the GMA's prior actions violate the state's campaign disclosure laws, with the state's attorney general deeming it "among the worst cases of concealment in state history." Meanwhile, the GMA argues its actions were completely legal and is seeking to have the suit dismissed.

Interestingly, Campbell's, which according to GMA documents donated nearly $300,000 to the cause, announced last month that it supports federal GMO labeling. The company even stated that if federal guidelines for GMO labeling weren't established soon, it would take independent measures to introduce such labeling for its products.

As Fortune notes, "Late last year, the GMA announced a national labeling initiative to provide consumers with 'instantaneous access' to detailed information on thousands of products through their smart phones." The "SmartLabels" will include information such as allergens and, yes, whether or not a food contains GMOs. Perhaps the GMA realized it was fighting a losing battle: While federally mandated GMO labels are still in contention, the state of Vermont became the first to pass a law requiring GMO labeling last spring (it will go into effect in July assuming it can fend off legal attacks from food companies). Maine and Connecticut voters have also approved similar labeling measures.

Eater has reached out to the GMA for comment. Check out the complaint filed against the group by the state of Washington, below:

State of Washington vs GMA