At the annual meeting of Safeway shareholders this past Friday in Pleasanton, Calif., the overwhelming majority of shareholders followed the advice of the National Center for Public Policy Research and rejected an anti-scientific shareholder proposal that would have forced the grocery store chain to brand products containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) with labels.
The purpose of the mandatory-labeling campaign is to deter the sale of products containing GMOs by frightening consumers unnecessarily.
"Safeway's shareholders sent a loud message to the GMO activists and lobbyists that represent them - science trumps baseless fear-mongering campaigns," said National Center Free Enterprise Project Director Justin Danhof, Esq.
Danhof spoke out against a proposal submitted by the Green Century Equity Fund that sought to require the company to identify and label all of its products that "may contain genetically engineered ingredients."
"In the face of all of the uncontroverted scientific evidence that GMOs are safe, the proponent of the GMO-labeling proposal had the temerity to tell Safeway's shareholders that no long-term scientific evidence exists to show that GMO foods are safe," noted Danhof. "This is beyond willful ignorance. Some anti-GMO activists are shameless in their attempt to advance their agenda."
Danhof countered the proposal by noting, in part:
This proposal is unscientific, unnecessary for Safeway's business purposes and would increase food prices, disproportionately harming lower-income customers.
Numerous scientific bodies have determined that GMO foods are safe, including:
1. The National Academy of Sciences
2. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (which has stated that the "science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe”)
3. The American Medical Association (which has stated that "Bioengineered foods have been consumed for... 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.")
4. The Royal Society of Medicine
5. The World Health Organization
The European Union spent ten years and hundreds of millions of Euros to exhaustively examine GMOs, determining: "The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies."
The proposal can be found on pages 241 and 242 of Safeway's proxy statement.
Danhof's full statement against the proposal, as prepared for delivery, can be found here.
The proposal failed, with only 10.25 percent of company shareholders voting for it.
"If GMOs are so bad and causing the human devastation that activists claim, why are groups such as the Green Century Equity Fund only calling for labeling?" asked Danhof. "If the science backed up its scary claims, it would be calling for an outright ban. And, if the science backed them up, I expect I might join with them. But the wild claims of the anti-GMO crowd have no scientific backing and simply rely on fear."
Friday's meeting marks the fourth time during the 2014 shareholder season that the National Center urged corporate America to do more to combat the assault from anti-GMO activists, which is in part funded by the organic food industry.
In late January, Danhof urged Monsanto shareholders to reject another anti-scientific proposal that sought to have the company work with the Food and Drug Administration to advance GMO labeling. As National Center Chairman Amy Ridenour said at the time , "[i]t's easy for relatively well-fed Americans to overlook the tremendous promise of GMOs as a tool to combat malnutrition and hunger worldwide. Yet the demonization of genetically-modified foods could have a tragic result if it stops or slows the use of seeds that improve agricultural yields and nutrition in the Third World. GMOs are even more environment-friendly than traditional farming. As GMOs are safe, why surrender the benefits?"
Like Safeway shareholders, Monsanto shareholders overwhelmingly agreed with the National Center and soundly rejected the proposal.
Danhof also urged Monsanto executives to make the company's scientists and health experts more available to the press to combat the high-level of misinformation and pseudoscience from anti-GMO zealots that pervades the GMO debate. As noted by the Wall Street Journal following the meeting, Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant agreed with Danhof, saying that "it's a really good idea" and that the company "need[s] to do more to more" to win the GMO debate.
In May, Danhof attended the Kraft Foods and Pepsi shareholder meetings to urge them to do more to combat the fear-mongering and deceptive narratives of anti-GMO special interests.
At Kraft's meeting in Glenview, Illinois, Danhof noted that, by using fear, anti-GMO activist groups seek to confuse and successfully scare much of the public. He stated: "The anti-GMO attacks come from Americans who have likely never missed a meal in their lives. Their campaigns against GMOs are unscientific, fear-based and inhumane, but they are winning. In fact, one ABC News poll showed that 93 percent of Americans think the federal government should mandate GMO labeling - a tactic they hope will elevate GMOs with taboo products such as tobacco and alcohol."
Danhof then asked Kraft's CEO to "[e]xplain how much GMO labeling laws would increase food prices, explain the environmental benefits of GMOs and explain the potential life-saving benefits they hold for third-world consumers. I don't need to tell you or your food experts all the benefits of GMOs, but we firmly believe it would be strongly in the company's best interest - and the public's best interest - if Kraft stepped up its efforts to educate the American public about them."
Following the meeting, Danhof said that he "was encouraged by Kraft CEO Tony Vernon's response to my question about GMOs. Vernon said that the company and the National Center are on common ground when it comes to the issue of GMOs. He thanked me for my question, and said that I stated the case for the promise of GMOs eloquently. Vernon is very passionate about the GMOs issue and the benefits GMOS hold for the environment and public health. He agreed that the company must do more to engage and win this public policy debate. He noted that GMOs are in so much of what everyone in the meeting has been eating for the past 25 years, and are perfectly safe. He pledged that in the coming months, the industry and Kraft would be much more vocal and aggressive in speaking about the many benefits of GMOs."
When Danhof arrived at the Pepsi meeting the following day in New Bern, North Carolina, multiple executives from the company's government relations department approached him to discuss the GMO issue. They explained to him how they were engaging with stakeholders - including key players in Washington, D.C. - to better explain the health and environmental benefits of GMOs. They informed Danhof that Kraft executives reached out to Pepsi's staff the previous afternoon to get some more information on the factsheets and beneficial information that Pepsi had already produced so that they may be able to make good on their CEO's commitment to the National Center's Danhof.
"This experience bolsters what we already know - that the Free Enterprise Project gets results. While some of those results, such as General Electric amending its corporate policy on green initiatives, received wide publicity, others, such as the Kraft/Pepsi communication mostly go unseen, but are nonetheless vital toward advancing a pro-liberty agenda," said Danhof.
At the Pepsi meeting, Danhof pointed out that anti-GMO sentiment - fueled by well-to-do Westerners - caused genuine human suffering and death elsewhere. He noted that: "Scientific American recently reported that the delayed application of Vitamin A-enhanced Golden Rice thanks to controversies stirred by anti-GMO activists had cost over 1.4 million life years in India alone since 2002. This is real human suffering and death. And it is children who too often suffer the most."
Following the meeting, Danhof reported Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi saying the company planned “to use its resources to work with the Food and Drug Administration to get the word out about high-yield crops. She believes the FDA has a responsibility and a duty to educate the American people about food ingredients and safety. She also recognized the powerful role the National Center can play in public education through our broad outreach efforts and engagement with other food and beverage corporations."
The National Center's Free Enterprise Project is the nation's preeminent free-market corporate activist group. In 2013, Free Enterprise Project representatives participated in 33 shareholder meetings advancing free-market ideals in the areas of health care, energy, taxes, subsidies, regulations, religious freedom, media bias, gun rights and many more important public policy issues. This year, the National Center has participated in 49 shareholder meetings, scoring many major victories for liberty and the free market.