GMO food labeling drive has biotech industry biting back
New efforts to force labeling of foods made with genetically modified crops, including a bill introduced by U.S. 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 labeling 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 Organization (BIO,) which includes Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical as members.
"To try to oppose this state by state, that is unsustainable," she said.
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 thoroughly tested.
Proponents of labeling for GMO foods said momentum is on their side. Various groups have held rallies over the last several weeks in Washington, D.C., 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 labeling 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.