Has NestlÚ been caught in a contradiction? According to Take Part, they have. NestlÚ USA has donated more than $1 million dollars to the “Say No to 37″ campaign, fighting against the proposed labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in California. Then, seemingly out of left field, a NestlÚ executive said that GMOs are unnecessary and that the food industry would benefit from more sustainable approaches.
Hans J÷hr, corporate head of sustainable agriculture at NestlÚ and honorary president of SAI Platform, a group of global food and drink companies focused on improving sustainability, told Food Navigator that GM food is not the ‘answer’ to feeding the world. According to Rod Addy at Food Navigator, J÷hr explained that “the food industry would reap more benefits from using resources more sustainably and employing other techniques,” including a heavy focus on addressing water issues.
Many people in the United States seem surprised by the NestlÚ executive’s remarks, especially given NestlÚ USA’s stance on GMOs. However, for a Swiss executive at a Swiss company, these opinions are fairly run of the mill. The Swiss were leaders in questioning GMOs in Europe and a ban on the use of GMOs in domestic agriculture was implemented in 2005. Although some GMO products are allowed, they are difficult to find since retailers assume that consumers will shun products that are clearly labeled as containing GMOs.This means that NestlÚ is used to operating and successfully selling products in an environment where GMOs are scarce and highly questioned by consumers.
Within that context, J÷hr’s remarks on GMOs are not particularly surprising. What is more confusing perhaps is his explanation for NestlÚ’s continued use of GMO ingredients in its products in places like North America. J÷hr told Food Navigator:
We [NestlÚ] have a very simple way of looking at GM: listen to what the consumer wants. If they don’t want it in products, you don’t put it in them.
Does this statement make sense? Are consumers in countries like the United States and Canada demanding GMOs? That is highly doubtful. It is more likely that they:
- Don’t know very much about GMOs and the potential impacts on our health and the environment.
- Don’t know which products contain GMOs and which ones don’t, since no labeling is required.
- Don’t have sufficient access to GMO-free foods to be able to feed their family, given the pervasiveness of GMOs in the North American food supply.
Other than certified organic products, which must be GMO-free, there is no way for consumers in Canada and the United States to know which products contain GMOs and which ones do not. Consumers are kept in the dark and are not making an informed choice when it comes to consuming or avoiding products containing GMOs.
Consumers in California may soon have the chance to put J÷hr’s hypothesis to the test. On November 6th, Californians will get to vote on Proposition 37, which calls for genetically modified foods to be clearly labeled. Fifty countries around the world currently have significant restrictions or bans of GMOs, while the United States and Canada do not even require labeling of them. We don’t know what we’re eating and it is time that we were able to make an informed choice. If Californians vote Yes on Prop 37, it has the potential to spread to other jurisdictions too.
Photo credit: Millions Against Monsanto on flickr