A group of biotech seed companies have launched an online forum to rebuff disapproval of genetically modified foods across the world. Activists and consumer groups are skeptical, saying the industry has a ‘track record of being anything but transparent’.
The website is said to be partly backed by the biotech US giant
Monsanto, DuPont and Dow AgroSciences, according to Reuters, as
well as by other companies whose products feature ingredients
that have been genetically altered in ways the companies claim
improve food production.
Founders of www.GMOAnswers.com say the
website was created “to do a better job answering your
questions — no matter what they are — about GMOs.” Its launch
is part of the biotech industry’s campaign to respond to concerns
for GMO food labeling and tighter regulation in the US.
One user from Newtown, Pennsylvania identified as Sorgfelt posted
a question on the website asking whether he could trust any
research done on GMOs that has the imprimatur of the
Missouri-based Monsanto. He query was prompted after learning
“from practical experience that, in order to get a job with
Monsanto, or do any research that is supported by Monsanto, or
even to publish research on Monsanto seeds, that all of my work
would have to be approved by Monsanto.”
“This makes it very difficult to have legitimate third party
research to rely on,” Sorgfelt, whose question has yet to be
Meanwhile, biotech industry players say all they want is dialogue
on the issue.
"This... is an effort to increase the dialogue. That is all we want," Paul Schickler, president of DuPont Pioneer told Reuters. "Dialogue is good. Over time I think we'll come to a common understanding."
Activists argue that the newly-established website won’t help stop the consumer backlash against genetically engineered foods that has been brewing for years.
“…the industry has a track record of being anything but transparent. They spend millions in marketing and lobbying against popular GMO labeling efforts. Their control of patents has prevented research from being done on the long-term impacts of biotech crops and food products. This latest public relations blitz is just more of the same from an industry that is struggling to combat popular sentiment that genetically engineered foods are unlabeled, untested and unsafe,” Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, Wenonah Hauter, said on Monday.
“More claims from the biotech industry about the safety of genetic engineering are not a replacement for the clear labeling that consumers are demanding,” he added.
Protests against Monsanto have become a frequent event across the globe. Earlier this month the world's largest seed-maker said it would drop its bid to grow some of its genetically modified crops in Europe after a number of European countries, including France, Germany and Italy, established bans against genetically-modified organisms.
The company’s corporate spokesman explained that Monsanto would offer its biotech crops only to those who want them.
"We're going to sell the GM seeds only where they enjoy broad farmer support, broad political support and a functioning regulatory system," Thomas Helscher told Reuters in May. "As far as we're convinced this only applies to a few countries in Europe today, primarily Spain and Portugal."
The company is also looking to gain its share in the corn market
in Ukraine. Eastern Europe, as well as South America, are
currently the key growth areas for Monsanto.
Another issue raising public concerns is the labeling of GMOs products, which usually go onto supermarket shelves unmarked.
Last year, Monsanto and other industry members spent $40 million
to defeat a ballot initiative in California to require labeling
of GMO food, Reuters reported.
The Natural Products Association, the nation's largest
association for natural products representing 1,900 food industry
players, has recently called for all foods containing
genetically-modified organisms to be accurately labeled under a
uniform standard, so consumers can “make educated decisions
about foods they purchase”.
In March, grocery retailer Whole Foods announced that by 2018, all products in US and Canadian stores must be labeled if they contain GMOs. This is the first national grocery store to set a deadline for genetically modified ingredients labeling.
“We are putting a stake in the ground on GMO labeling to support the consumer’s right to know,” co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, Walter Robb, said. “The prevalence of GMOs in the US paired with nonexistent mandatory labeling makes it very difficult for retailers to source non-GMO options and for consumers to choose non-GMO products. Accordingly, we are stepping up our support of certified organic agriculture, where GMOs are not allowed, and we are working together with our supplier partners to grow our non-GMO supply chain to ensure we can continue to provide these choices in the future,” he added.
In June, Chipotle Mexican became the first US restaurant chain to reveal GMO ingredients after it begun labeling all the ingredients the grill burrito group uses that contain genetically modified organisms.