Washington voters in all but four of the state's counties Tuesday rejected a measure to label genetically modified foods and foods made with GM material.
According to the Washington Secretary of State, 986,806 of the state's nearly 4 million voters turned out to cast their ballots, with 45% entering a yes vote and 54% voting no.
The measure, which would have made Washington the first state to implement GM labeling, sparked a heated debate in the state, garnering huge campaign contributions on both sides of the discussion. Nearly $30 million was spent advertising and other public messages between the two campaigns, according to an Oct. 30 analysis by Maplight.
Yes on 522, a group that collected nearly $8 million to support the initiative, Tuesday said the race was too close to call.
"Due to Washington State's vote-by-mail system, we don't have a final tally of the votes," Delana Jones, campaign manager for Yes on 522 said in a statement. "Please stay tuned for more information in the following days."
The group, which argued that consumers had a right to know what is in their food, said the initiative originated from a petition that more than 300,000 Washington residents signed. Key donors included Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, Center for Food Safety Action Fund, and Mercola.com.
On the other side of the argument, No on 522, supported by top contributors Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and PepsiCo, said the labeling measure would have significant costs to industry and agriculture, as well as consumers.
"This is a clear victory for Washington consumers, taxpayers and family farmers," Dana Bieber, spokesperson for No on 522 said in a statment. "Washington voters have soundly rejected this badly written and deceptive initiative."
The No campaign took issue specifically with exemptions that appeared in the initiative. For example, foods purchased at restaurants and meat and dairy products from animals fed GE grains were not required to be labeled.
The campaign did face a misstep earlier in the year as one of the lead sponsors, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, was hit with a money laundering lawsuit by the Washington State Attorney General.
The suit alleged that GMA – which represents more than 300 food and beverage companies – had collected and spent more than $7 million on the campaign while shielding the identity of its contributors.
Despite the setbacks, and no vote on the measure, it's likely that the fight is not over. Similar measures have been introduced in several state legislatures and a ballot initiative for labeling was narrowly defeated last year in California.
Now, groups in Oregon are preparing for a similar battle in the next election cycle, according to U.S. Sen. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., backing up a campaign that has in previous years been introduced nationally but failed to materialize.
UPDATE: Final vote tally for the I-522 measure was 48.91% voting yes, and 51.09% voting no. There were 1,753,068 votes in total, according to the Washington Secretary of State.