New efforts to force labelling of foods made with genetically
modified crops, including a bill introduced by US lawmakers Wednesday, have
struck a nerve with biotech crop developers who say they are rushing to roll
out a broad strategy to combat consumer concerns about their products.
Executives from Monsanto Co., DuPont and Dow Chemical, among
the world's largest developers of biotech crops and the chemicals used to help
produce them, told Reuters this week they are putting together a campaign aimed
at turning the tide on what they acknowledge is a growing public sentiment
against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) used as ingredients in the
nation's food supply.
Last year, the industry spent $40 million to defeat a labelling measure in California. But similar initiatives are underway now in
more than 20 states, and the move by the big biotech firms is designed to
thwart the spread of such initiatives, which the companies say would confuse
consumers and roil the food manufacturing industry.
"Even when we prevail, we lose," said Cathy
Enright, executive vice president for food and agriculture for the global
Biotechnology Industry Organisation (BIO,) which includes Monsanto, DuPont and
Dow Chemical as members."To try to oppose this state by state, that is
unsustainable," she said.
Companies’ use of
The big biotech firms are still working out details of their
plan, but it will likely have a large social media component, the company
executives said. The group will focus on conveying what it says are the many
benefits of biotech crops. Participants have not yet set a budget for the
campaign, Enright said.
The most popular gene-altered crops withstand dousings of
weed-killing chemicals and produce their own insect-killing toxins. Biotech
corn, canola, soybeans, and other crops are used in human food and animal feed
around the world and biotech companies say they are heavily regulated and
Proponents of labelling for GMO foods said momentum is on
their side. Various groups have held rallies over the last several weeks in Washington,
DC, and at several state capitols to press the issue."They should be
worried," said Scott Faber, executive director of the Just Label It
campaign, which has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to require labelling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients.
In fact, supporters of a Washington state measure similar to
the failed California initiative said Tuesday they had raised more than $1
million from supporters. In introducing a US labelling bill Wednesday, US Sen.
Barbara Boxer and US Rep. Peter DeFazio said consumers have a right to know
what type of ingredients are in their food.
Consumers need to be
"Consumers deserve to have clear, consistent, and
accurate facts about the food products they purchase," Sen. Richard
Blumenthal of Connecticut said in a statement. Blumenthal was one of 31
lawmakers who co-sponsored the bill. Law makers and anti-GMO activists are
responding to growing public concern about possible health risks associated
with GMO foods. While there is no scientific consensus that foods made with GMO
ingredients are harmful, activists argue that people have a right to know what
they are eating.
Last month, grocery retailer Whole Foods said that it would
require suppliers to label any product made with genetically modified ingredients.
And the Natural Products Association, which represents 1 900 food industry
players, has called for a uniform standard for GMO labelling to apply
"This is a rapidly growing movement," said Dave
Murphy, a spokesman for Food Democracy Now, a group pushing for GMO labelling.
"We're not giving up until we have labelling. We're just not going
away."Monsanto and other biotech crop companies say mandatory labelling
would confuse consumers and could deter them from purchasing foods made with genetically
Biotech companies also are concerned that consumer sentiment
is causing regulators to slow down approvals of new GMOs, said Dow AgroSciences
Brad Shurdut. Shurdut leads the company's government and regulatory affairs. Dow
had hoped to have a GMO corn product called "Enlist" on the market
farmers and consumers
But amidst opposition
from farmers, consumers and public health officials, the company now expects a
delay of at least a year."It is having a profound impact on our regulatory
system," said Shurdut. Monsanto, which in 1996 commercialised the first
biotech crop, a soybean resistant to herbicide, wants to communicate how
biotech crops help farmers produce food, said executive vice president Jerry
Despite the worst drought in 50 years, farmers last year
still produced better-than-expected crops due in large measure to biotech
improvements to corn, he said. Steiner recognizes the industry faces an uphill
battle."We fully respect that people make up their own minds," said
Steiner. "But there is a fact gap that exists. It is our responsibility to
do a better job of filling it."