The market for natural and organic foods has exploded. A decade ago the average supermarket shopper would have been hard pressed to find a single piece of organic produce or a box of organic cereal. The landscape has since changed – drastically. Even the most conventional markets now have a sizable collection of organic and “natural” products for sale. Next to Hormel corndogs are Amy’s Organic Burritos. But just slapping “organic” or “natural” on a label is hardly enough for some of the more intrepid consumers out there – nor should it be.
In California, a state that often sets the standard for political change, there is a ballot initiative (Proposition 37) that would require the labeling of all genetically modified foods, in highly processed foods as well as their more natural counterparts. And no surprise, there are numerous biotech giants, like Monsanto and DuPont, that are spending millions of dollars to make sure this bill never passes. However the parent companies of such natural food staples like Kashi, Horizon Organic, and Cascadian Farm are funding efforts to defeat the initiative, as it is not in their best business interest. This is creating some static in the natural foods sector as some smaller companies are putting their limited resources in support of Proposition 37, while their shelf neighbors are ambivalent or even opposed, due to their larger business interests.
This is also creating some friction between consumers and some of their favorite brands. As The New York Times reported yesterday, “Consumers aren’t always aware that their favorite organic brands are in fact owned by big multinationals, and now they’re finding out that the premium they’ve paid to buy these organic products is being spent to fight against something they believe in passionately,” said Mark Kastel, a co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog and farm policy group that has been tracking corporate contributions in the ballot fight. “They feel like they’ve been had.”
Although certified organic products are prohibited by law from containing genetically engineered ingredients, organic companies generally favor the labeling law, contending that consumers have a right to know what is in the products they buy. What is left unsaid is that it may also be a marketing advantage for organic companies, distinguishing them from conventional food producers.
With all the muscle behind, and against, this bill, it will likely be a contentious fight, and the results will likely send a message to consumers and producers alike.
What is your feeling about legislating mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods? Do you think this should be something decided at the state level or the federal level? Should companies that position themselves as “natural” responsibly address the issue of genetically modified foods?