business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Wall Street Journal reports that "two decades after the first genetically engineered seeds were sold commercially in the U.S., genetically modified organisms - the crops grown from such seeds - are the norm in the American diet, used to make ingredients in about 80% of packaged food."

However, the story says, "'non-GMO' is one of the fastest-growing label trends on U.S. food packages, with sales of such items growing 28% last year to about $3 billion, according to market-research firm Nielsen. In a poll of nearly 1,200 U.S. consumers for The Wall Street Journal, Nielsen found that 61% of consumers had heard of GMOs and nearly half of those people said they avoid eating them. The biggest reason was because it 'doesn't sound like something I should eat.'

"Grass roots campaigns in several states are pushing for mandatory labeling of foods with GMOs—something most food companies staunchly oppose. In May, Vermont adopted the first state law requiring companies to label GMO foods, starting in 2016.

"The anti-GMO backlash reflects the deep skepticism that has taken root among many U.S. consumers toward the food industry and, in particular, its use of technology. Similar criticism has roiled other food ingredients including artificial sweeteners and finely textured beef, the treated meat product that critics dubbed 'pink slime.' The Web and social media have enabled consumer suspicions in such matters to coalesce into powerful movements that are forcing companies to respond."
KC's View:
This can be hard. The story notes that while ben & Jerry's committed to eliminating GMOs from its products two years ago, it has found that "the biggest hurdle is milk. The vast majority of the feed given to dairy cows in the U.S. is made with GMO corn, soybeans and alfalfa. That makes it difficult to find non-GMO milk in quantities large enough for Ben & Jerry's…"

Keep in mind that the anti-GMO backlash has been fueled in part by the utter unwillingness of many companies to label them and then educate consumers about them. They could change the game by embracing labeling as an opportunity, but they've not done that … and so they have only themselves to blame for much of the controversy.