Campaign pushes Hershey's, Mars to either label GMOs or drop them

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Genetically modified food

An example of a candy wrapper labeled for GMO content.
An example of a candy wrapper labeled for GMO content.
GMO Inside, a national coalition of companies and organizations, has marshaled a public Valentine’s Day campaign to pressure Hershey and Mars to drop GMO ingredients or to label them in their chocolate candies.

Hershey and Mars combined comprise nearly 70 percent of the U.S. chocolate market.  The two companies also seem committed to their opposition to GMO labeling requirements if their political contribution patterns are any indication. Hershey is reported to have spent $518,900 to defeat California’s Prop 37 and Mars spent $498,350.

Social media push

The campaign seeks to motivate consumers to communicate with the companies directly via Facebook postings, e-mails, phone calls and so forth.  The campaign is only a few days old and already Hershey’s Facebook brand page is peppered with hundreds of comments taking the company to task over its GMO stance.

“The food industry is based on lack of transparency and there is this whole thing out there called Facebook and Twitter and moms concerned about their kids are active on there,”​ said John Roulac, co-chairman of GMO Inside.

“The whole landscape is changing and I wonder if the CEOs of these big CPG companies are aware that they are entering a whole new world,”​ Roulac, who is also founder and CEO of Nutiva, told FoodNavigator-USA. “It’s not just about GMOs, it’s about their whole supply chain.”

Some observers question whether direct public pressure on companies will have much an effect on getting them to budge on the GMO question, especially considering the fiscal lengths they were prepared to go to defeat the California measure. But Roulac points to a slightly older campaign to engage General Mills on GMOs via its Cheerios Facebook brand page as an example of what’s possible.

“We know that the Cheerios Facebook campaign has been very successful. The GMO advocates have taken that over and Cheerios has no more control over their Facebook page,”​ Roulac said. (To be precise, the postings still appear to have been put up by brand employees and pertain to brand initiatives, but almost all recent comments on those postings call out General Mills over GMOs.)

Changing course

Thinking about big boxes of chocolates generally makes people smile, and the Valentine’s Day hook does give the campaign a light-hearted tone (“We try to have a sense of humor,” ​Roulac said). But the goal is serious.  The big CPG brands hold the reins of the food system, and organizers are trying to influence where it’s headed.

“We are dedicated to reforming our food system,”​ said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of another member of the coalition, Food Democracy Now! (the exclamation point is part of the name, he emphasizes).  “Our goal is to make a sustainable future.”

“Now that Prop 37 was defeated we are working with 37 states across the country on GMO labeling initiatives,”​ Murphy said. “GMO Inside was really more to target the brands.”

GMO corn, beet and soy ingredients

Genetic modification is not an issue for chocolate per se.  But much of the sugar used in chocolate candies meant for the North American market comes from GMO sugar beets, and almost all corn syrup starts out as GMO corn, Roulac said.  Soy lecithin is another high risk item.

The campaign opposes GMOs for a variety of reasons. Genetically modified organisms have never been proven safe for consumption, the coalition asserts, and it says a growing body of studies is raising concerns around the health effects of eating them. GMO opponents also maintain that herbicide usage goes down when GM seeds are first employed in a field but then ramps back up to higher levels that with conventional seed, harming the environment and failing to deliver on the GM promise.

According to GMO Inside, Hershey and Mars already sell candies abroad that are labeled for GMO content.  Roulac believes its the first sign of a chink the the anti-labeling armor, and signifies a coming change.

“We think that in one to two years one of the big CPG companies is going to start removing GMOs from some of their products (in the US) and  when that happens the rest will fall,”​ he said.

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