The US race to become GM-free

June 2015
Photo Creative Commons
Labelling of GM food in America came "one giant step closer" in April when a federal court affirmed that Vermont's new law requiring GM disclosure was constitutional.
 
The plaintiffs in this case were representatives of America's largest food manufacturers the Grocery Manufacturer's Association (GMA), Snack Food Association and others. These huge and powerful organisations have been pouring tens of millions of dollars into anti-labelling campaigns across the States. Just why the GMA is fighting so hard to prevent something its members' customers have said they want isn't clear, especially since the larger food manufacturers already sell labelled GM foods all over the world.
 
Ironically, Vermont is one of the smallest States in America and would seem to have the least resources to fight Big Food, and yet it has achieved a ruling on the rights of its citizens which will have repercussions throughout the land.
Meanwhile, more astute US businessmen are capitalising on supplying what consumers want to buy: organic. What was a niche market increased 11% during 2013 alone, reaching 5.1% of US grocery spending. In 2014, US organic exports were $553 million, almost four times the 2011 total, and this market progression shows no sign of abating.
 
As a result, America, the world's top grower of corn and soyabeans is now importing corn - non-GM corn - from Romania, Turkey, the Netherlands and Canada, and soya from India and China. Because US farmers have been persuaded to move overwhelmingly into GM agriculture, they can't meet the needs of their highest-dollar consumers, and nations whose farming is less industrial are seizing the advantage.
 
The sea-change in America's appetite for non-GM produce also became evident recently in the most unlikely of places.
 
Iowa leads the US in the production of corn and ranks among the top producers of soyabeans, making it a prime user of GM seed. Its economy is closely dependent on agribusiness and biotech industry products, which are therefore often seen as having an outsize influence on the State's political climate.
 
For Hillary Clinton, with her consistent advocacy for GM crops and ties to the biotech industry (in her early days as a lawyer, she worked in the legal firm which represented Monsanto), her presidential campaign in Iowa should have been a done deal. However, the women there who had voiced strong support for her "dropped her like a hot potato" when the GM issue came up.
 
An even bigger nightmare for the biotech industry may be unfolding in the US restaurant business. This is a very brand-oriented, customer-sensitive end of the food trade.
 
Chipotle restaurant chain has always positioned itself as a socially-conscious business serving the masses. Now it has announced it will use only GM-free ingredients.
 
The chain is not a huge operation by American standards, yet the significance of the move wasn't lost on the GM lobby. Chipotle's announcement was met with an unjournalistic "tidal wave of establishment media abuse" for its "irresponsible, anti-science, irrational" decision, which could only have been orchestrated by one faction.
 
Traditional vendors of fast and processed foods who have been shoring up GM in America could find themselves selling out-moded products to a shrinking market.
 
OUR COMMENT
 
It seems there a number of nightmare scenarios for the biotech industry in progress in America, all on the same trajectory. Just as GM foods on US shelves are threatening to come out of hiding, consumers are going organic, support for GM is a political liability, and restaurants are at the starting-line of a race to become GM-free.
 
Take heed: the little guys are winning.
 
 
SOURCES
  • Jonathan Latham, Monsanto's Worst Fear May Be Coming True, Independent Science News, 18.05.15
  • Phil Lampert, Chipotle's Non-GMO Policy Changes Everything, Forbes Magazine, 4.28 15
  • Court Declares Vermont's Genetically Engineered Food Labelling Law Constitutional, Centre for Food Safety, 27.04.15
  • Alan Bjerga, U.S. forced to import corn as shoppers demand organic food, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 15.04.15
  • S. A. Miller, Hillary's agribusiness ties give rise to nickname in Iowa: 'Bride of Frankenfood', The Washing Times, 17.05.15

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