This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School’s MBA program. You can follow along here.
by Delise Weir
I think Monsanto is doing itself a disservice by helping the organic food industry. Retail sales of organic foods rose to $21.1 billion in 2008 from $3.6 billion in 1997. More recently, sales climbed another 5.2% from 2008 to 2009, in spite of the recession. Though still a niche market in the big picture of human food consumption, organic has gone mainstream through private-label product lines in Safeway, Walmart, and Trader Joes. Why? What’s happening now that wasn’t happening in 1997? My theory is that incomplete information and intentional obfuscation about genetic engineering (GE) in the food system is driving a significant level of consumer paranoia.
Why be paranoid?
I subscribe to a couple of consumer newsletters and, weekly, I learn about test results in non-US countries linking GE crops to allergies, liver problems, infant mortality, sterility and death. Pretty bad stuff. Why is our food protection agency not protecting us? When I wonder why those studies are all coming from the EU and Asia, I learn that the Food and Drug Administration policy claims that GE foods are no different from conventionally grown foods and therefore they are safe to eat. No safety studies are required. Then I find out that Monsanto funds its own safety studies and that the FDA official responsible for the policy was an attorney for Monsanto. OK, now it’s a conspiracy.
Easier to ask forgiveness than permission
If you have ever raised a teenager you know the pattern when they do something they know they aren’t supposed to do. They dive in and do it anyway rather than ask permission because they know you’ll say no. And they may get in trouble but it was so worth it. Monsanto is up to the same kind of shenanigans. GE penetration into the commodity seed market has been so rapid and all encompassing it boggles the mind.
Take “Roundup Ready” sugar beets for instance, which grew within 2 years to capture 95% of sugar beets planted in the US. Monsanto has pushed GE products so aggressively they have cornered the market on beet, corn and soy seed making GE a ubiquitous ingredient in almost everything we eat.
Fear of Cornflakes
What if I don’t want to eat GE crops? Well, that’s just too bad. If you want to know if that box of Ritz crackers you’re holding has GE ingredients you have to guess. Since Ritz crackers contain soybean oil, corn syrup and lecithin the odds are very high that it does. Since the FDA does not recognize a difference between GE food and conventionally grown food, there is no need to label or track or monitor GE products. No accountability, no traceability, no transparency, no problem for Monsanto. Just monopoly scale market penetration with a patented product that EVERYBODY needs.
Darned sneaky, eh?
What’s a mother to do?
People like me who get consumer awareness bulletins in their email know they can take action through various forms of advocacy. Someday that may pay off. But the fact remains; I don’t want to feed my family shady, unknown, suspicious food products. There are a couple of options; I could move to Europe where labeling is required (an attractive option) or I could grow all my own food… probably not. As long as I stay in the US the ONLY viable way to avoid genetically engineered organisms is to buy organic which DOES have a label I can see on the packaging. So, thanks Monsanto. By eroding consumer trust through unethical conduct, information obfuscation and by putting people and the environment at risk in the pursuit of profit, you’ve managed to bolster the organic food industry. Nice.