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The Super Bowl Hummus Showdown

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Taking advantage of every Super Bowl XLIX opportunity to empty a sack full of football tropes, Green America unleashed an email this week, seeking your writer’s help in pressuring Sabra Hummus to discontinue use of genetically modified organisms. The tasty product, distributed by Sabra Dipping Co., LLC and 50-percent owned by PepsiCo Inc., goes well with chips and soft drinks on game day but has raised the ire of anti-GMO activists Green America and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. The Green America email reads:

Sabra Hummus is the official dip of the NFL and one of the major backers of Super Bowl XLIX. The Super Bowl is a huge marketing opportunity for Sabra to continue to misinform consumers by promoting its product as a healthy alternative to traditional halftime snacks. The reality is quite different – Sabra hummus is laden with GMOs. It doesn’t matter if your favorite team isn’t playing, or if you are not a big fan of football. This is an important time to speak up and tell Sabra to score a touchdown by removing GMOs.

Green America helpfully provides a script for activists too busy to develop their own arguments against GMOs in their case against the offending chickpea concoction:

Hi, my name is [NAME]. As a concerned customer, I am calling today to ask Sabra to stop mixing GMOs into its hummus and other products. Sabra is seen as a healthy snack but doesn’t live up to that image when it contains genetically engineered soybean oil that is produced with toxic pesticides that put humans, pollinators, and the planet at risk. By using GMOs, Sabra is supporting an unsustainable food system that largely benefits biotechnology corporations. I hope that Sabra will be a leader in environmental and social responsibility by sourcing non-GM ingredients. I will not be serving Sabra hummus at my Super Bowl party until the GMOs are out.

For their part, the religious shareholders of ICCR succeeded in convincing PepsiCo the error of its GMO ways two years ago:

After filing a shareholder proposal asking PepsiCo to label its genetically engineered food products, ICCR members reached an agreement with the company wherein it agreed to release a public statement detailing its position on labeling genetically modified ingredients, and its commitment to proactively seeking input from ICCR shareholders on this issue.

While celebrated as an ICCR victory, PepsiCo’s concession seems more of a effort to quiet a noisy yet decidedly minority contingent of its shareholders. Writing as PepsiCo’s vice president, Global Public Policy and Federal Government Affairs, Paul Boykas dropped a bit of truth and science on the ICCR investors who seeming care less about the company’s profitability and fellow investors than their own questionable agenda:

As you know, like other US food and beverage companies, PepsiCo utilizes genetically modified ingredients in the US where they have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. We have appreciated the dialogue ICCR has conducted directly with representatives of PepsiCo’s food safety department to share insights and challenges to the current system. Though PepsiCo relies on government agencies to assure the safety of such ingredients, the company also maintains an active global Food Safety Department and robust procedures and works closely with suppliers to ensure the safety of products and the integrity of ingredients, including through testing. In addition, our food scientists track emerging trends and new scientific reports on issues which are critical to maintaining high standards in food safety….

It should be noted that PepsiCo does offer certain products which do not utilize GM ingredients to provide consumers with choices, which is the hallmark of PepsiCo’s overall portfolio….

Yet, Green America also has a script for activists to challenge the seeming Hummus from Hell:

As someone who cares about the health and environmental impacts of the foods I buy, I am deeply concerned that your company manufactures hummus with soybean oil from genetically engineered soybeans and citric acid potentially from genetically engineered corn.

Your company boasts that it is committed to protecting the people, places, and environment on which your product relies. I am speaking up because by allowing GMOs in your supply chain you are failing to uphold this commitment.

It is very misleading to market your products as a “healthy” alternative to more common dips and spreads when one of your main ingredients is likely GMO. GMOs have never been proven safe for human consumption, but the health problems we’ve seen in lab rats and animals leave great cause for concern for ourselves, not to mention the negative environmental impacts of GMOs. For example, GMOs are contributing to a rapid rise in the use of increasingly toxic herbicides.

I urge PepsiCo to be a leader and make the following commitments for change:

  1. I want Sabra hummus to go non-GMO and for PepsiCo to certify Sabra products through a non-GMO-verified third party.
  1. I want PepsiCo to work throughout its supply chain to reduce the use of toxic synthetic pesticides.
  1. I want PepsiCo to stop fighting state-level GMO labeling efforts. We have a right to know what’s in our food! It is time PepsiCo starts supporting a mandatory Federal-level labeling initiative.[Emphases added]

This year, I may forego watching the Patriots and Seahawks battle it out in Phoenix to fantasize a gridiron battle between scientifically inclined shareholders and ICCR/Green America activists. Once the dust has cleared and the former declared victorious, I’ll vacate the couch to wash the hummus from my whiskers.

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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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