Story by Russ Grayson, November 2014
STRANGE is not an adjective commonly used to describe food and food processing, however we may see more of it if recent events are any indication.
Strangeness and McDonalds, you might think, go well together when it comes to the corporation's fast foods — after all, they've a campaign in the US to convince customers that their Chicken McNuggets are not made from an oozing pink paste extruded from pulverised meat, according to Dan Nosowitz at modernfarmer.com. But that's not the strangeness I'm getting at. That strangeness is MacDonalds rejecting a new, GM potato for its food preparation — you read it right, they rejected the thing and all other GM potatoes as well.
The badly-named new potato, the Innate Potato (really, who would give a potato a name like this?) says Dan Nosowitz, is the engineering creation of the agribusiness corporation, Simplex, and it's designed to withstand bruising, browning and to contain less of the amino acid, acrylamide, which Dan says was speculated on back in 2002 as being a suspected carcinogen.
The difficulty of producing GM-FREE icecream
Still on things GMO, the icecream maker, Ben & Jerry's, committed to sourcing only GM-free ingredients for its products this year but says finding sources of GM-free milk will take a lot longer. That's because something around 90 percent of corn grown in the US is GM, as is much of the soy, and a lot of this is fed to cows that produce the milk that goes into Ben & Jerry's products.
This demonstrates the difficulty companies wanting to go GM free face in the US. But what about Australian eaters? I don't recall who it was that told me, it was a few years ago now, but they seemed in-the-know and suggested that Australians who eat imported foods would likely have been eating GM ingredients for some time. They went on to say that there is no evidence that GM foods are injurious to human health.
Those with a distaste for GM would likely challenge that last comment and cite scientific reports linking GM foods with disease. It's not a small number of reports that count, however. Rather, it's the scientific consensus, and the scientific community is still out on that.
You can't simplify opposition to GM on health grounds alone. There's a whole range of objections to GM food, ranging from the health fears through to the attitude that GM has potential when focused on real food supply issues like developing drought-resistant crops, but not under the control of a handful of corporations that could come to control our food supply. Then there are economic/political objections about the contaminating drift of genetic material onto non-GM crops and the possibility of the spread of herbicide-resistant weeds that have adapted to the herbicide sprayed on GM crops. The anti-GM lobby is often portrayed as monolithic, but it really is not and contains a range of attitudes to the technology.
One more cup of coffee before I go (apologies to Bob Dylan)
I was flicking through my news feeds on Flipboard the other day (Flipboard for iOS is where I find the news I'm interested in rather than that which some newspaper editor of radio or TV producer thinks I should read, see or hear — I haven't bought a newspaper for at least ten years and am all the better and more diversely informed for that). Suddenly, a headline caught my attention — the coffee corporation Starbucks was joining with US agribusiness and GM crop developer Monsanto to challenge the US state of Vermont for its introducing labeling legislation to identify GM food products. Musician, Neil Young, immediately went public saying that he had drank his last coffee at Starbucks.
Wondering why Starbucks would risk its reputation gained for using fair trade coffees, I looked a little deeper and found clarification on Snopes.com. According to that source, Starbucks is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and it is that group that is challenging Vermont over GMO labeling requirements, not Starbucks in collusion with Monsanto, as was alleged.
The SumOfUs website has launched a campaign to pressure Starbucks and Green Mountain Coffee on the allegation:
[quote author="SumOfUs" image="http://afsa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/logo.png" w="105" h="97" image_align="right"]Starbucks doesn't think you have the right to know what's in your coffee, so it's teamed up with Monsanto to sue the small U.S. state of Vermont to stop you from finding out ('Starbucks Teams Up With Monsanto - the Most Hated Company in the World' http://action.sumofus.org/a/starbucks-gmo-gma/?sub=homepage).[/quote]
The website is something of a bad news dump that suffers from the common activist practice of focusing on everything that's wrong but less of what is being done that is good. That's my impression looking at their homepage, anyway. This is a campaigning organisation and at least they offer petitions so visitors can make the easy slacktivist response of signing a petition aimed at Starbucks and Green Mountain Coffee.
They call on the companies to:
[quote author="SumOfUs" image="http://afsa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/logo.png" w="105" h="97" image_align="right"]Withdraw your membership in the Grocery Manufacturers Association and your support for the lawsuit against Vermont's food labeling law.[/quote]
SumOfUs says Starbucks is hiding behind the "shadowy Grocery Manufacturers' Association", yet Snopes.com found that "GMA has a web site that presents their clear stance on the issue of genetically modified foods and labeling and that included a 2014 membership directory openly listing Starbucks and Monsanto as members". Starbucks, an affiliate member, is one of 300 GMA member organisations.
Starbucks wasn't long is responding to the allegations, saying the coffee corporation " …is not a part of any lawsuit pertaining to GMO labeling nor have we provided funding for any campaign. And Starbucks is not aligned with Monsanto to stop food labeling or block Vermont State law."
The focus on Starbucks is to encourage the corporation to apply pressure on the Association to drop the legal challenge. This reminds me very much on the tactics used by Greenpeace, I think it was, when they focused on Apple's use of Chinese corporations employing overworked and cheap Chinese labour to manufacture their digital devices. That was diluted somewhat when a writer pointed out that HP, Samsung and others also used the same suppliers under the same labour conditions. Singling out a particular business might sometimes work, but only if that business is influential enough to bring change in its industry. Apple took the initiative by requiring its Chinese suppliers to introduce better working conditions.
Supplying selective information that is reframed to position a corporation or other entity in unfavourable light so as to encourage it to press for changes is a tactic adopted by some social change and environmental organisations, yet it is the sort of things those lobbies accuse their opponents of doing. When it is exposed, then it can discredit the lobbies as well as their campaigns.
The tactic is not based on telling a complete lie, just on a selective use of information. Any journalist worth their words would — and should — disclose it and ask why lobbies supposedly working in the public interest resort to the exact same tactics as those they oppose. This is how the selective information/reframing tactic can backfire when it shines the journalistic light on the organisation making the allegations rather than the issue at hand.