At today's annual meeting of General Mills shareholders, the company's investors heeded the National Center for Public Policy Research's advice in rejecting a resolution that would have forced the food giant to remove genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) from its products.
Yesterday, the National Center issued a press release highlighting the high costs and pseudoscience of the proposal and urged investors to reject it.
"The public policy debate over GMOs is riddled with misinformation and highly-sensationalized arguments," said National Center Free Enterprise Project Director Justin Danhof, Esq. "Today's meeting shows that fact-based scientific consensus can trump emotional appeals that are not tethered to science or reason. Anti-GMO leaders have done a good job of scaring many Americans into thinking GMOs are harmful just by saying so. But the overwhelming body of scientific evidence proves them wrong."
At the meeting, Danhof spoke out against Proposal 5 that was submitted by Harriett Crosby of Cabin John, Maryland - a descendant of one of the General Mills founders. The resolution called for the company to "adopt a policy of removing genetically engineered crops, organisms, or ingredients from products sold or manufactured by the company," and supported that request by claiming that "genetic engineering involves significant risks to the environment, food security, and public health."
In delivering her proposal, the proponent claimed that "we are killing ourselves" with GMOs. Danhof replied, in part:
Anti-GMO activists, such as Proposal Five's proponent, are part of a wide-scale, anti-scientific effort to scare Americans away from perfectly healthy foods and life-saving technological agricultural advancements...
The anti-GMO attacks come from Americans and western Europeans who have likely never missed a meal in their lives. Their campaigns against GMOs are unscientific, fear-based and inhumane.
GMO foods are a great gift to mankind. They lower food costs, allow farmers to produce food in a more sustainable way, and, as Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation have pointed out, show great promise for ending world hunger and malnutrition.
A tally of the preliminary vote at the meeting showed that more than 97 percent of General Mills shareholders voted against the proposal.
"These would-be food police wield a powerful weapon - fear. However, General Mills investors proved that facts and sound science can overcome irrational emotion," said Danhof. "By removing GM ingredients from original Cheerios back in January, the company perhaps put a target on its back for GMO opponents to exploit, but today these activists were soundly rejected.
In response to Danhof's comments, General Mills CEO Ken Powell said the company stands by the overwhelming research and studies that show GMOs are safe, and also touted the environmental and humanitarian benefits which they hold. And, in response to yet another anti-GMO activist in the meeting, Powell affirmed that the company would keep GM ingredients in its remaining Cheerios cereals.
"By declaring publicly that General Mills will keep GM ingredients in its remaining Cheerios line, this signals to me that the company realizes that removing GM ingredients from original Cheerios was perhaps a mistake," said Danhof. "Powell also pointed out that consumers who wish to avoid GMOs have the choice to buy organic - and consumer choice is what will drive company decisions - not irrational food police."
Today's meeting marks the third occasion this year in which company investors have sided with the National Center concerning a GMO proposal.
In January, the National Center urged Monsanto investors to reject a shareholder proposal from well-known anti-GMO groups that would have forced the company to work directly with the FDA towards mandatory GMO-labeling. At Monsanto's annual shareholder meeting, the proposal was defeated with more than 95 percent of the company's shareholders voting against it.
Then, at July's annual meeting of Safeway investors, the National Center spoke out against a proposal that called for the grocery giant to label its foods containing GMOs. That proposal was defeated with approximately 90 percent of the shareholders voting it down.
In addition to countering pseudoscience, anti-GMO resolutions, the National Center's Free Enterprise Project is also urging food companies to do much more to defend their products and the promise of GMOs.
At today's meeting, General Mills CEO Powell said that the company stands behinds its products and the promise of GMOs and that the company does a good job of relaying this information. But he also said that he would support a consistent federal labeling notation for non-GMO foods, so consumers who want those specific items can easily identify them.
Food companies increasing awareness of GMO benefits
Other food company CEOs have also signaled their intention to increase awareness of the benefits of GMOs.
Notably, after Danhof urged Monsanto executives to have the company's scientists engage the public and explain the safety and benefits of GM foods, the Wall Street Journal notedthat Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant agreed with Danhof, saying that "it's a really good idea" and that the company "need[s] to do more" to win the GMO debate.
In May, Danhof also attended the Kraft Foods and Pepsi shareholder meetings to urge those major name-brand companies to do more to combat the fear-mongering and deceptive narratives of anti-GMO special interests.
At Kraft's meeting in Glenview, Illinois, Danhof asked Kraft's CEO to "[e]xplain how much GMO labeling laws would increase food prices, explain the environmental benefits of GMOs and explain the potential life-saving benefits they hold for third-world consumers ... we firmly believe it would be strongly in the company's best interest - and the public's best interest - if Kraft stepped up its efforts to educate the American public about them."
Danhof noted following the meeting that Kraft executives agreed that the company must do more to engage and win this public policy debate. "[Kraft CEO Tony Vernon] noted that GMOs are in so much of what everyone in the meeting has been eating for the past 25 years, and are perfectly safe. He pledged that in the coming months, the industry and Kraft would be much more vocal and aggressive in speaking about the many benefits of GMOs," said Danhof.
Similarly, following the Pepsi meeting, Danhof reported Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi saying the company planned "to use its resources to work with the Food and Drug Administration to get the word out about high-yield crops. She believes the FDA has a responsibility and a duty to educate the American people about food ingredients and safety. She also recognized the powerful role the National Center can play in public education through our broad outreach efforts and engagement with other food and beverage corporations."