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As You Sow’s Dishonest GMO Activism

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Religious shareholder activists continuously sing from a counterintuitive hymnal that asserts genetically modified organisms somehow are detrimental to the environment, the financial well-being of the companies relying on GMOs and those people who eat foods containing GMOs. For example, religious shareholder activist group As You Sow boasts on its website:

As You Sow has organized an investor letter sent to the top 50 corporate opponents of GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California (Proposition 37) and Washington (Initiative 522). The letter to public companies was signed by 45 wealth management and investor advocacy groups representing $36 billion, while the letter to private companies was signed by 38 groups representing $18 billion.

The letter describes the American public’s deeply unfavorable opinion of corporate money in politics, and the backlash suffered by companies that spent corporate funds to oppose Proposition 37 and Initiative 522. Investors are concerned that draining corporate funds to oppose these initiatives is especially unproductive as GMO labeling laws and bans continue to gain momentum, including a recent labeling law in Vermont and two countywide cultivation bans in Oregon.

Last February, AYS CEO Andrew Behar co-authored a letter to the New York Times:

GMO monocrops are susceptible to blights like “Goss’s wilt”, a “tidal wave washing across the Corn Belt” (“A Disease Cuts Corn Yields”, 9/30/13). A 2013 MIT peer-reviewed study demonstrated that the herbicide Roundup, which GMO crops are engineered to tolerate, is “linked to a range of health problems and diseases, including Parkinson’s, infertility and cancers.” This toxic chemical is being aerially sprayed on millions of acres of “Roundup Ready” GMO crops and farm-adjacent communities. Micro-doses of this endocrine-disruptor are found in our food supply, including infant formula and children’s cereals.

GMO crops have not delivered on their promise of ending world hunger. They have created record profits for a handful of seed/chemical companies and left the rest of us exposed to toxic chemicals and vulnerable to food shortages. We do not need GMO wheat, what we need is a policy that supports sustainable agricultural for generations to come.

Got that? One of the groups warning that a negative backlash on GMOs may inflict financial harm on shareholder value is also is one of the main groups mounting the backlash. How convenient! AYS opposition to GMOs includes the following shareholder resolution submitted to Abbott Laboratories, Inc.:

Resolved: Shareholders request that unless long-term safety testing demonstrates that genetically engineered crops, organisms or products thereof are not harmful to humans, animals and the environment, the company’s board of directors adopt a policy to identify and label, where feasible, all food products manufactured or sold under the company’s brand names or private labels that may contain genetically engineered ingredients and report to shareholders, at reasonable cost and excluding proprietary information, on such policy and its implementation by October 31, 2014.

As reported on the libertarian Reason blog, initiatives such as the AYS push for GMO labeling are really a cover for an agenda to eliminate GMOs altogether. Reason quotes the liberal Portland Mercury’s surprising editorial opposing Oregon’s Measure 92, which would require GMO labeling:

The essential problem is dishonesty. Measure 92’s proponents argue it’s all about helping consumers make an informed choice. They insisted in our interview they have no problem with GMOs, and no other motives, ulterior or not, besides the spread of information.

But this campaign—like identical efforts that narrowly failed in California and Washington recently—is quite clearly a bid to get food companies to abandon GMOs, a backdoor attempt at altering our agricultural landscape.

See, the science we possess on GMOs indicates they’re almost certainly safe to eat. Indeed, the Yes on 92 representatives who attended our endorsement interview acknowledged purchasing and eating GMO products all the time. But there’s a clear motive for wanting “conspicuous” labeling on those foods, and it’s not to remind consumers that GMOs are harmless. Without sufficient context, a label is likely to sow doubt or apprehension in shoppers who assume it’s a warning, and that there’s a reason they should be warned….

Bravo, Mercury editors for your intellectual honesty in matters related to the scientifically proven safety of GMOs. And shame on AYS for attempting to drive up the costs of foods for all of us, including the world’s most impoverished. Watch the Reason video at the bottom of this post on the benefits of GMOs, including significantly reducing world hunger safely and cost-effectively. Viewed from this perspective, why don’t more religious groups, clergy and nuns advocate for more GMOs rather than less?

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Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. He was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010-2012. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2011 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past five years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Flint, Mich., with his wife Katherine.

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