The left’s war against genetically modified foods continues apace. Last week, the nonprofit Green America outfit boasted a victory over The Hershey Company, which has agreed to use “simpler ingredients” in its addictive Hershey’s Kisses Milk Chocolates and Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars. Yes, “Frankenfood” fearers, the delicious GMO-derived sucrose of Hershey’s chocolate soon will be replaced with an identical product coincidentally known as sucrose.
Finally, the “Sugar, Sugar” bubblegum world imagined by The Archies in 1969 has been realized as “Sucrose, Sucrose.” You might still be my candy, girl, but you’ve got me wanting to lecture you in basic science and economics. Just as most candy Easter bunnies are only air wrapped in chocolate, the Green America triumph is a hollow victory.
Not surprisingly, the religious left also has agitated against GMO-derived products in numerous shareholder resolutions submitted to such companies as General Mills, Inc. and Starbucks Corporation. For example, shareholder activists As You Sow submitted a proposal to General Mills in 2014, which stated:
We believe that genetic engineering involves significant risks to the environment, food security, and public health. Our company should take a leaderships position regarding sale of food made from genetically engineered crops. Failure to do so leaves our company at risk of damage to its brand and reputation.
This year, AYS is focusing on resolutions requiring labeling of GMO products and disclosure of lobbying efforts by Monsanto Company, The Dow Chemical Company and E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont):
The resolution calls for the company to disclose policy and procedures governing political lobbying; all payments used for direct, indirect, or grassroots lobbying; and all payments to organizations that write and endorse model legislation.
Lobbying can create unnecessary risks to a company’s reputation by alienating their customers. Shareholders are demanding transparency so that we can determine whether the company’s lobbying could endanger our investments. Monsanto’s management has been channeling money through third parties to hide their involvement – it’s critical for investors to see the full picture.
The high vote at Monsanto demonstrates increased investor awareness of lobbying liabilities. A similar As You Sow resolution with DuPont will be voted on at the company’s annual meeting in April. After dialogue with As You Sow, Dow Chemical agreed to increase its lobbying disclosures and report every organization to which the company gives more than $25,000 per year.
It certainly isn’t sound science putting AYS in high dudgeon. As noted by Dr. Josh Bloom at the American Council for Science and Health:
Hershey is now pandering to the anti-you-name-it crowd. They are going ‘all natural!’
ACSH’s Dr. Josh Bloom points out a few fallacies in their new marketing approach: ‘First, they are now doing away with the ghastly man-made chemical vanillin, which is used to give vanilla its flavor and replacing it with vanilla extract. I wonder if they realize that the principal chemical that gives vanilla extract its flavor is… vanillin. Damn, that’s progress if I’ve ever seen it.’
Another meaningless claim is the GMO-free nonsense. Among other things, this means that they will not be using sugar that is derived from GM sugar beets. But, as we have repeatedly noted, the sugar (sucrose) from GM-sugar beets is completely indistinguishable from the sugar (sucrose!) derived from any other source, such as non-GM sugar beets, or sugar cane.
For the purpose of this brief overview, let’s take a look at the role of GMO sugar beets in the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 95 percent of our nation’s sugar beets in 2009 and 2010 derived from GMO seeds. The USDA also calculated the economic impact on the 11 states in which sugar beets are grown: “Cash receipts for U.S. sugar growers vary with sugar yields and prices. Cash receipts for sugar beets were $1.507 billion in the 2006/07 crop year and $1.335 billion in the 2007/08 crop year.”
There have been no health concerns regarding GMO sugar beets in the 10 years since GMO seeds have been used, according to Bob Boehm, commodities and marketing manager with the Michigan Farm Bureau, located in one of the most productive of the 11 states growing sugar beets.
‘The scientific evidence shows these crops are safe, and they require less tillage, which means less fossil fuel burned and less erosion. We need these crops to maintain U.S. farmers’ competitiveness in world markets, and we need them if we’re going to provide enough food to feed a growing world population.’
Activist groups that oppose the technology say GMO sugar beets will contaminate organic crops as pollen spreads and will lead to faster herbicide resistance in weeds, which they call ‘superweeds.’ Scientists understand the potential for herbicide resistance, however, and are developing weed control products that resist herbicides other than glyphosates, the active ingredient in Roundup. Presently, only Roundup Ready products use the GMO herbicide-resistant technology. And as for pollen drift in sugar beets, Boehm said it’s a moot point for Michigan.
The potential for wind-borne or insect-borne cross-pollination in Michigan sugar beets is non-existent,’ he said. ‘Our farmers top the beets before they produce seed. In areas where they grow sugar beet seed, we believe there should be some acceptable tolerance for GM traits in organic crops because those growers cannot control pollen drift. And remember that farmers already employ setbacks on crops to protect the veracity of different varieties of the same crop….’
Let’s recap, shall we? Sugar-beets from GMO seed are consumer-safe, environmentally sound and economically beneficial to the farmers in the 11 states where they’re grown. Scoring a guarantee from Hershey to avoid GMO sugar achieves nothing of real benefit and much that is financially harmful to our nation’s farmers – as well as raising the costs of manufacturing delicious chocolate. Much the same can be said about the religious AYS shareholders targeting Dow, Monsanto and DuPont. Both groups are acting on bubblegum science.