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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Strategic CSR - GMOs

The article in the first url below provides an update on the Vermont law that went into effect earlier this year requiring firms to label products containing GMO ingredients (see Strategic CSR – GMOs). Rather than have firms deal with piecemeal legislation, state-by-state, Congress has now acted to pass federal law that supersedes any individual state's legislation. Unfortunately, the new law looks as though it is a victory for large companies and their lobbying budgets, rather than clarity for consumers:
"In a victory for food companies, Congress has passed a federal requirement for labeling products made with genetically modified organisms that will supersede tougher measures passed by one U.S. state and considered in others. The bill will require labels to be reworked or updated to show whether any of the ingredients had their natural DNA altered, but will take years to phase in and will give companies the option of using straightforward language, digital codes or a symbol to be designed later. The terms are in contrast to a law that went into effect this month in Vermont. That law required food manufacturers and grocers selling prepared foods explicitly to label items that contained GMO ingredients by January. Companies that violate the law face fines of as much as $1,000 a day."
By the time this law takes effect, at least in the US, it is going to be hard to find any food without ingredients that have "had their natural DNA altered" in some way:
"GMOs, used in the U.S. for about two decades with federal approval, are crops whose genes have been engineered to make them resistant to pests, better able to withstand drought and otherwise hardier. Federal regulators have approved the GMO seeds on the market, but environmentalists and natural food supporters say they can hurt the environment and rely on herbicides that could harm consumers. The vast majority of corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association trade group estimates that 70% to 80% of foods eaten in the U.S. contain ingredients that have been genetically modified."
While I support the science behind GMOs (which is pretty clear that there are no demonstrated negative effects from producing and consuming foods containing GMOs), I also believe that consumers should be able to decide for themselves whether they choose to ingest these products. As a general rule, transparency is always a good thing in communication between firms and all their stakeholders. Hopefully, those firms sufficiently progressive to see where the national debate is heading will voluntarily begin labelling their products accurately:
"Some big companies including Campbell Sound Co., General Mills Inc., Kellogg Co. and Mars Inc. went ahead and began placing GMO-labeled items on store shelves several months ago nationwide either in response to consumer demand or Vermont's law. Danone SA said on Thursday that it would also begin to label GMO ingredients in yogurts made for the U.S. market. A Campbell spokeswoman said the U.S.'s largest soup manufacturer will continue to print labels with words related to GMO ingredients, and the company is in discussions with federal regulators about the language. A Mars Inc. spokesman said the company is sticking with the text it has applied to products containing engineered ingredients for now. General Mills will review the regulations and assess consumer preference before developing its long-term plan on labeling, a spokesman said."
The article in the second url below reports on a more recent executive order that further standardizes what is considered to be a 'genetically-modified organism' and stipulates how companies will have to convey this information to their customers, even while breaking them in gently:
"The new law mandates that the Department of Agriculture define what constitutes a genetically modified food ingredient and then requires food manufacturers to label products that contain them. Disappointment among labeling proponents stems from the latitude the law gives food companies in how this labeling is done."
As the article concludes, however, GMOs are only one (and far from the most pressing) among many issues surrounding food quality and labeling:
"Of course, there is much more we could know about our food than whether it was genetically engineered. Now that we're 'allowed' to know about G.M.O.s, there are some other questions about the food we buy that we might like answered. For example: Where are the ingredients from? Were antibiotics routinely administered to animals? What pesticides and other chemicals were used, and do traces of these chemicals remain? Was animal welfare considered, and how? What farming practices were used? How much water was required? Let's really get down to it. Were the workers who sweated to put food on my table paid at least minimum wage? Did they get health benefits? Overtime? Were they unionized? Protected from pesticide exposure?"
Take care
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Congress Sets Rules for GMO Labels
By Heather Haddon
July 15, 2016
The Wall Street Journal
Late Edition – Final
G.M.O. Labeling Law Could Stir a Revolution
By Mark Bittman
September 2, 2016
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final