It became increasingly obvious during 2015 that eating habits across the USA are changing.
For today's Americans, all those processed, packaged offerings on the grocery shelves are conjuring up images of Michael Pollan's 'food-like substances' stripped of their nutrition, and loaded with chemicals and sugar. Consumers are demanding fresh, local, organic food.
After decades of foisting ever-cheaper, and ever-more-artificial fare on the public using deceptive marketing, corporate-sponsored research and government lobbying, food manufacturers are finding that their erstwhile customers are walking away from the country's most iconic food brands. Big brand names are fast becoming liabilities.
Struggling to alter the marketing strategies of a life-time, Big Food is reacting to the problem by tweaking the goods and re-inventing the advertising: a chemical colour removed here, an artificial flavour eliminated there, an unpronounceable chemical dispensed with along the way, while some tiny organic company is swallowed up to boost the 'healthy-product' portfolio of the giant.
Pepsico has replaced the artificial sweetener 'aspartame' (actually N-(L-α-aspartyl)-L-phenylalanine-methyl ester) in its fizzy drinks with the equally artificial but less ominous-sounding 'Splenda' a.k.a. 'sucralose' (actually chlorinated sugar). The Company is even developing an organic formulation for its 'Gatorade' products aimed at athletes.
General Mills has purchased an organic pasta company for four times the company's revenues. Suddenly organic pasta has acquired a premium value.
Campbell Soup Co is farthest ahead in the game. The Company is "unleashing the power of (its) Purpose, real food that matters for life's moments" and trying to re-connect its customers to the "warm memories" tinned soup should, it seems, evoke: this means ditching all the chemical flavours and colours that have been disconnecting customers' digestive processes from their food for decades.
Most Big Food juggernauts, however, can't change course fast enough.
While sales of frozen dinners dropped nearly 12% from 2007 to 2013, Nestlé is investing $50 million in a frozen food research and development facility.
Diners' appetites for McDonalds standard fried frozen burgers and chips have been on a downward spiral for the last three years with no end in sight.
To add to Big Food's woes, consumers are increasingly demanding transparency, which the industry isn't used to providing.
It's telling that, in a country where "GMO has evolved to be a top consumer food issue reaching a critical mass of 92% ... in favour of putting it on the label" (Campbell's Soup Co), and where more than 40% of consumers are actively avoiding or reducing GM in their diet, Big Food has been at the forefront of the campaign to prevent labelling. PepsiCo, for example, spent nearly $10 million from 2013 to 2015 to lobby against mandatory State and Federal GM labelling (more than Monsanto!).
The 2016 New Year kicked off with the first of the (inevitable) changes in food manufacturer attitude to GM labelling.
Campbell Soup Co, which has steadfastly supported the Grocery Manufacturers' Association to defeat all State GM labelling initiatives, suddenly discovered it has "always believed that consumers have the right to know" and is scrambling to implement the GM labels their soup-eaters demand.
US farmers blinded by the promise of profit from GM crops and controlled by Big Food have been even slower to notice their end-customers aren't buying.
Awareness finally dawning of the shift in the sugar market from home-grown GM beet to imported non-GM sugar-cane, the American Sugarbeet Growers Association is 'helping' the farmers it represents, not by urgently lobbying seed suppliers (such as Monsanto) for GM-free seed, but by commissioning a PR exercise to teach the public to want GM. With assistance from Monsanto, the Association is launching a major social media campaign which is enlisting women to persuade mothers that GMOs are safe. The premise seems to be that consumers will believe the information (supplied by Monsanto) about GM technology (also supplied by Monsanto) if it comes from women.
COMMENT. Remember the UK Government's 'GM Nation?' PR exercise in 2003? Sugarbeet growers haven't noticed that educating people to want GM food doesn't work, and tends to have the opposite effect.
Food safety concerns in America moved up a notch in March when the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared glyphosate a "probably carcinogen" . Since most GM crops, including sugarbeet, are engineered to tolerate and accumulate glyphosate, this makes a lot of American food potentially carcinogenic. California's Environmental Protection Agency quickly moved to implement a "known to cause cancer" label on all glyphosate-containing weedkillers. It took only a few months for the first farm-worker and horticulturalist to file lawsuits against Monsanto for causing their cancers and intentionally misleading both the public and regulators about the dangers of its prize herbicide.
Alongside all of this, the Obama Administration announced a major one-year review of the US laws regulating GMOs. The goals of this review (see below) recognise the piecemeal and inadequate nature of GMO regulatory development to date, the corruption in the system and lack of public and environmental protection, and the biotech industry's domination of the food supply, research agenda and America's future.
Goals of Obama's one-year plan to rationalise America's GMO regulations
- Develop regulations that will clearly delegate responsibility among the various agencies.
- Create a long-term strategy to increase transparency in the regulatory process to protect public health and the environment.
- Commission an independent analysis of the biotech industry's future.
Sadly, the Obama GM regulatory review and rationalisation is unlikely to survive the inevitable biotech muddying. It's also being seen by sceptics as a green-washing of GM regulations to ensure the future of biotech crop in the current climate of public distrust, rather than to protect US citizens.
If you're into social media, why not engage in a little anti-GM propaganda of your own? Especially if you're a woman because people will believe you.
 GLYPHOSATE IS A PROBABLE CARCINOGEN - May 2015
- Hans Taparia and Pamela Koch, A Seismic Shift in How People Eat, New York Times, 6.11.15
- More consumers say no to GMOs, www.nacsonline.com, 21.08.15
- Chris Prentice, Insight - GMO backlash threatens beet farmers as food makers swap sugars, Reuters 29.10.15
- Obama Administration Announces Revamping of GMO Regulations - Wants Monsanto to Be More Transparent, www.inquisitr.com, 5.07.15
- Sam Levin, California EPA moves to label Monsanto's Roundup "carcinogenic", East Bay Express, 5.09.15
- Carey Gillam, U.S. workers sue Monsanto claiming herbicide caused cancer, Reuters 29.09.15
- Why we support mandatory national GMO labelling, www.campbellsoupcompany.com 7.01.16
- Campbell Announces support for Mandatory GMO Labelling, Campbell Press Release, 7.01.16
- www.gatorade.com accessed January 2016
- Dr. Mercola, Aspartame and Shame, www.mercola.com, 12.01.16
Image credit: Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr