GMOs: Why is this Still Investor-Worthy News?


Margaret Weber
Corporate Responsibility Director, Congregation of St. Basil of Toronto

The mantra from the seed and the food industries goes like this: “Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been commercialized and in foods for nearly 20 years, there are no negative impacts and life is going along smoothly, would everyone please stop yammering about GMOs?”

The full story is that GMOs are having a significant environmental impact and no agency is monitoring for health effects. In fact, monitoring for health impacts is nearly impossible because in the US, where the vast majority of GMOs are grown and consumed, there is no labeling.

Use of Roundup (glyphosate) has increased geometrically, resulting in “super weeds” that require more applications of more powerful toxins. Glyphosate resistance has been confirmed in 24 weed species worldwide and verified in 29 U.S. states. Recently, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a legal petition with the EPA regarding the impact of glyphosate on the monarch butterfly: widespread usage has decimated milkweed populations on which the monarch’s life depends.

Increased weed resistance has Dow Chemical seeking USDA approval for a GMO corn resistant to the more toxic 2,4-D, a component of the infamous defoliant Agent Orange. This raises concerns over more toxics in soil and water runoff, and the eventual creation of stronger super-weeds. Who is monitoring the impacts? At least five reports by the National Academies of Sciences alerted that there are gaps in the regulatory system of GMOs between FDA, EPA, and USDA. Liability for impacts of these products will not rest on government bodies but rather on the companies producing the seeds. This proxy season, DuPont faces a new resolution on GMO herbicide impacts.

Also this proxy season, Abbott will face its second vote on labeling its GMO products including its Similac infant formula. This is the age of growing consumer concern for what they are eating. Last year, the New York Times reported that 93% of Americans favor GMO labeling. Maine and Connecticut passed GMO labeling laws, and ballot initiatives in California and Washington nearly succeeded, despite food companies and the Grocery Manufacturers Association spending over $70 million in opposition. Meanwhile, nearly half of all states introduced labeling bills in 2013, and four congressmen joined over 200 companies and NGOs to urge the President to enact strict federal labeling. Sixty-four countries, including the European Union, require GMO labeling, and 26 have total or partial bans. Labeling appears inevitable in the U.S., ensuring that this issue will be before shareholders for years to come.

For more information, download Proxy Preview 2014 to find more GMO shareholder resolutions.