Cargill, one of America's biggest food and agriculture companies, recently announced its partnership with the Non GMO Project, an organization focused on misinforming consumers about GMO safety, and, as the organization's name implies, ridding the American marketplace of GMOs.
The Non GMO Project also runs a verification program where they charge companies to test food products for the presence of GMOs and then awards those companies a non-GMO verification label that can be placed on food packaging.
Cargill claims this move comes in response to their customers demanding GMO-free products. If this is true, Cargill is smart to provide products and services that please their customers. Yet, Cargill could have provided this verification independently and without aligning with a radical anti-GMO activist organization that tries to stoke public fear about GMOs.
Consumers should be aware of some key facts that they won't find in Non GMO Project's materials. 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 see evidence by now. Yet people and farm animals have been consuming GMOs since 1996 with no adverse affects on their health; in fact, life expectancy has risen during that same time period.
The vast majority of food produced and consumed in the U.S. contains GMOs. 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, but it would have a big affect on the average American's food budget. According to a 2010 Iowa State University study, removing GMOs from the marketplace would cause a spike in prices on corn, soybeans, and canola — three primary ingredients in processed foods — by an average 5.8%, 9.6%, and 3.8%, respectively.
The average global yields for these crops would also decline, which would cause production to fall by 14 million tons. Removing GMOs from processed foods would also costs jobs as many 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. For instance, in India, with the introduction of Bt cotton in 2002, female farmworkers saw their incomes rise by an average 55% from 2002-2008. Because farmers were able to plant more crops, employment rates across the board increased.
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 most of the blame.
Yet there's another reason GMOs continue to be vilified: 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 just one example of this complacency.
Cargill's main error was that they focused 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.
Cargill's claim that it cares about its customers and wants to respond to their demands is noble. Yet, 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. Partnering with an activist organization that seeks to destroy the biotech industry, harm farmers and limit consumer choices will do nothing to advance this righteous goal.