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Corporate might may hamper biotech crops

Market forces — most notably, the bottom line of major national and international corporations — may have more to do with resolving food safety concerns than all the protests and demonstrations by activist organizations.


— McDonald's, Frito-Lay, Procter and Gamble, and other fast food chains and food product manufacturers have been backing away from use of genetically modified potatoes for their french fries and other potato products.

J.R. Simplot, Boise, Idaho, one of the largest suppliers of potato products in the country, has told its growers to stop producing the GMO potatoes, noting that "virtually all" fast food operations say they want non-GMO potato products. Frito-Lay, a division of Pepsi, says all corn in its corn chips and other snack foods is GMO-free.

— Gerbers and Heinz imposed a ban of all GMO ingredients in their baby foods. Heinz has further said all tomatoes used in its ketchup and other products are non-GMO.

— In another industry-rocking move, McDonald's has announced it will require its direct suppliers, chiefly poultry, to stop feeding antibiotics to promote growth.

Since the bulk of the company's beef and pork comes through middlemen, the policy will not affect most of those supplies. But analysts predict it's only a matter of time until cows and hogs are included.

The use of antibiotics in animal/poultry food has long been controversial; opponents contend it has promoted resistance and created "super germs" difficult or impossible to control. Many in agriculture and the scientific community say there's no hard evidence that low dose antibiotics in animal feeds contribute to resistance.

— The European Union's recent, much-ballyhooed decision to allow foods with GMO ingredients in member nations has a big "gotcha" hanging over it: All such foods must carry labels detailing those ingredients — even if they're so processed that the genetically modified components can't be chemically detected.

The end result could be that major food manufacturers will opt to do as McDonald's, Frito-Lay, Gerbers, Heinz, and others, and require that the corn, potatoes, chicken, and other products they buy are non-GMO.

A Friends of the Earth-Europe spokesman says, "If these products have to be labeled, who's going to put them on the market? (The manufacturers) run the risk that no one will buy their products… (and this) will make sure these products don't enter Europe."

The American Soybean Association, in a statement following the EU decision, acknowledged that "manufacturers wanting to market their products in the EU will inevitably continue the trend to reformulate their products to remove the biotech ingredients… rather than be stigmatized by a biotech label."

For most consumers in the U.S., GMO foods have been a non-issue. Surveys show they feel their food is safe and that USDA, FDA, and other watchdog agencies are doing a good job of protecting the food supply.

But big business looks at profit. Controversy, regardless of the science involved, can negatively affect sales. While they may believe the foods are perfectly safe, expediency may dictate that they "just say no."

The losers will be farmers, many of whom may be forced to give up the productivity and cost efficiency of this technology in order to sell their crops and livestock.

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TAGS: Legislative
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