October 11, 2013
Stay out of GMO Fight, Shareowners Tell Food Companies
by Robert Kropp
Investors file resolutions with many food and biotech companies, warning them of reputational
consequence of donating to defeat a ballot initiative in Washington State calling for labeling of
food products containing genetically modified organisms.
Next month, voters in Washington will decide whether food companies doing business in the state
will be required to label food products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The
intent of Initiative Measure No. 522
“is to ensure people are fully informed about whether the food they purchase and eat was produced
through genetic engineering so they may choose for themselves whether to purchase and eat such
food,” the proposed bill states.
In 2012, two genetic engineers
associated with Earth Open Source produced a 123-page report entitled GMO Myths and Truths, which asserted
that GMO crops can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious, and are insufficiently regulated to
“American consumers simply want the same rights as consumers in 64 other
nations that require GMO labeling,” Scott Faber, Vice President of the Environmental Working Group
Despite the fact that polls show that over 90% of Americans want food
products containing GMOs to be labeled, no federal regulations mandate such labeling in the US.
Maine and Connecticut have passed labeling laws that are yet to be implemented, and a similar law
passed by Vermont's House of Representatives will be taken up by the State Senate early next year.
In California last year, a bill to label food products containing GMOs was narrowly
defeated after industry giants such as Monsanto and DuPont spent $46
million to influence the vote. In a press
release, a coalition of investors opposed to corporate interference in the Washington vote
noted, “Many of the companies that contributed to anti-Prop 37 measures experienced significant
consumer backlash on social media sites and were the subject of consumer boycotts.”
Nevertheless, the same trend is underway in Washington, where corporations have spent more than
$17 million in their efforts to defeat the measure. Once again, Monsanto and DuPont lead the way in
spending; Monsanto alone has reportedly spent almost $5 million.
Even before the millions
of dollars were spent to defeat GMO labeling in California and Washington, the food and agriculture
biotechnology industry spent nearly $600 million in political contributions and lobbying "to ease
the regulatory oversight of genetically modified foods,” Food & Water Watch reported in 2011.
In response to such flagrant attempts to buy a vote outcome, several investor groups have
joined in filing shareowner resolutions requesting that companies refrain from making political
donations to influence elections. As You Sow
has filed resolutions at Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow Chemical, and plans to file at General Mills
and Abbott Laboratories as well. Green Century
Capital Management says it will file a resolution with Kraft, and EWG will file at Coca-Cola
The investors say that they will contact almost 30 additional companies, and
the top 50 corporate opponents to the California measure will receive letters requesting that they
refrain from political spending.
“Companies that get involved in highly controversial
public policy issues risk alienating their consumer base,” Lucia von Reusner of Green Century said.
“Using shareholder funds to publicly oppose transparency and the public’s right to know threatens
to erode consumer trust, and exposes the company to significant risks as a result.”
“Smart companies increasingly recognize that the real cost of lost brand reputation and
consumer loyalty far outweighs the imaginary costs of labeling,” Faber of EWG added.
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