What is in this article?:
- Why GMO labeling could be good for Monsanto
- Monsanto on track to alienate thousands of consumers
- International role models
With the Just Label It and Right2Know non-GMO campaigns building steam, GMO labeling still remains a topic of debate. Adam Eidinger, organic food activist and organizer of last year's Right2Know March, recounts his recent experience of speaking at Monsanto's shareholder meeting, and explains why GMO labeling may become a reality.
When you visit the Monsanto website, you’ll be greeted with phrases such as “Improving agriculture, improving lives,” “Let’s end world hunger,” and “Sustainable agriculture: Producing more. Conserving more.” You can watch a promotional video featuring verdant green fields, brilliant sunsets and illusionary phrases like “Stand in the Amazon or the arctic and you’ll see ancient rainforests and majestic shelves of ice disappearing.” Monsanto—the world’s largest biotech seed company—urges readers to “realize a vision for sustainable agriculture,” and most peculiarly, regards transparency as one of its eight pillars of corporate responsibility.
To those unschooled in the realities of Monsanto’s work, it would appear the company seems on par with an organization whose mission includes alleviating world poverty, raising the quality of life for small farmers and fostering third-world education. But for those in the know, Monsanto is far removed from philanthropic endeavors.
A look inside Monsanto headquarters
Last Tuesday, Adam Eidinger, organic food activist and arguably the most “in the know” individual, appeared at the Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis during a shareholders meeting to present a proposed study of the “material and financial risks or operational impacts” associated with its chemical products and genetically modified crops. Eidinger, who coordinated the 15-day, 313-mile Right2Know March from New York City to the White House to encourage lawmakers to label GMOs, prepared the resolution along with Harrington Investments, a shareholder advocacy firm concerned about the financial implications of consumer disdain over Monsanto and its leading GMO seed products.
While shareholders rejected the study at a 94.3 percent majority, Eidinger had the unique opportunity to gain insight into the inner gears of Monsanto—a venture into the belly of the beast.
“Right2Know coalesced around the issue of labeling GMOs in the U.S. as it is mandatory in Europe. But I don’t think Monsanto understands there is a big nuance there when you talk about labeling versus banning biotech entirely,” Eidinger said. “In order for labeling to pass it needs to be a win-win situation. I think Monsanto realizes that by focusing efforts on labeling GMOs rather than eliminating, it is a huge compromise on our part.”
It’s certainly commendable that Monsanto permitted Eidinger to speak at all, considering non-GMO supporters were simultaneously protesting on company property. But Eidinger stresses there are discrepancies between activist and shareholder mentalities. “It is not a viable business plan to ignore what is happening in the marketplace. The bottom line is that consumers want to know what they are eating. Non-GMO is one of the fastest growing third-party certifications in the natural foods space."
Indeed, sales of products containing the Non-GMO Project Verified label fetched $1 billion in sales from October 2010 to October 2011, according to SPINS. And as shoppers grow savvier over the possible dangers of GMOs—including the environmental impacts of heavy herbicide and pesticide use—both farmers and manufacturers will amplify actions to avoid GMOs in their products.