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May 17 2017

Washington Insider: Tensions Over Big Business Links to Alarmism

The Progressive Farmer
featuring Julie Gunlock

Julie Gunlock is policy director at the Independent Women's Forum and runs the organization's Culture of Alarmism Project. She wrote recently in the Investors’ Business Daily regarding Cargill’s decision to partner with the Non GMO Project and offers some pointed criticism. She thinks the Cargill decision “misinforms consumers about GMO safety” and masks the Project’s purpose of ridding the American marketplace of genetically modified crops.

The Non GMO Project runs a verification program which charges companies to test food products for the presence of GMOs and awards those companies a non-GMO verification label that can be placed on food packaging, Gunlock reports.

For its part, Cargill claims their decision came in response to demands from customers for GMO-free products. Gunlock says she doesn’t doubt Cargill’s rationalization, but complains that it could have provided this verification independently and without aligning with a “radical anti-GMO activist organization that tries to stoke public fear about GMOs.”

She argues that consumers should be aware of some key facts “that they won't find in Non GMO Project's materials,” and which she provides. Thousands of studies have confirmed the safety of GMOs and the world's leading health organizations — the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the European Union, and the World Health Organization, to name only a few — have all declared that GMOs are safe for human and animal consumption.

If GMOs were really a significant threat to human health, we'd have seen evidence by now, she thinks. “Yet people and farm animals have been consuming GMOs since 1996 with no adverse impacts on their health; in fact, life expectancy has risen during that same time period,” Gunlock says.

The vast majority of food produced and consumed in the U.S. contains GMOs, she notes. For instance, 92% of corn, 94% of soybeans, 90% of canola and 95% of sugar beets are grown using GMO seed and GMOs are present in roughly 80% of processed foods.

Removing GMOs from store shelves won't do anything to improve public health, she argues, but it would have a negative effect on the average American's food budget. According to a 2010 Iowa State University study, removing GMOs from the marketplace would boost costs of key ingredients and cut average global yields for many crops. Removing GMOs from processed foods would also costs jobs as some food products would simply cease to exist and food companies would shrink, reducing staff and offering fewer products to the American consumer.

GMOs have also improved the lives of farmers in developing nations, Gunlock says. For instance, in India, with the introduction of Bt cotton in 2002, one group of female farmworkers saw their incomes rise sharply. Because farmers were able to plant more crops, employment rates across the board increased, she says.

GMOs have also helped reduce agrochemical use and, because of increased yields, have allowed for the preservation of land for uses other than farming.

Yet, despite all of this positive news, misinformation and fearmongering about GMOs persists. Activist groups like the Non GMO Project deserve much of the blame, she thinks.

And, there’s more; one reason GMOs continue to be vilified and is simply the unwillingness on the part of food companies, like Cargill, to help educate consumers about the GMO process. Food companies' willingness to place the Non GMO Project's verified label on their products is an important example of this complacency, she argues.

Cargill's main error was to focus solely on pleasing one customer, the subset of shoppers looking for non-GMO food products, while forgetting an important business partner — the farmers that choose to sell Cargill their GMO corn. These farmers understandably bristle at the idea of working with a company that sidles up to an organization demonizing their farms, she says.

Cargill's claim that it cares about its customers and wants to respond to their demands is noble, she says, but thinks Cargill also has a duty to their partners — in this case, the American farmer — to expose radical activist groups that actively work to misinform and frighten consumers about safe agriculture and food manufacturing processes.

One of Cargill's mottos is "helping farmers prosper." Cargill should remember this motto in their efforts to build coalitions, she argues. Partnering with an activist organization that seeks to destroy the biotech industry, harm farmers and limit consumer choices will do nothing to advance this worthwhile goal.

Well, it will be interesting to see how Cargill responds in the future to farm group complaints about its link with the non-GMO group. Certainly the foodie-driven war on GMOs will continue, and perhaps assume an even higher profile as USDA works to satisfy Congressional requirements for labels on foods containing GMOs.

So far, there seems to be little indication of a decline in efforts to stigmatize GMOs, but the new administration can be expected to be at least a little less sympathetic to anti-GMO efforts. Thus, the ongoing food label fight will be important for to producers to watch closely as USDA produces its recommendations and plans for implementation in the coming months, Washington Insider believes.

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Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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