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March 16, 2000


ABC.Com on Labeling GM Food: Please Vote!


- http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

In a message dated 3/17/00 6:37:04 AM Central Standard Time,
paul.tenning@seeds.Novartis.com writes:

<< I also realize that the consumer in US react in a different way than their
counterparts in Europe. However, before you (ag-bio industry in US) start a
no-labelling campaign in US, reflect over the experience we have had in
Europe. >>

It is always a bad idea to outright say no to a consumer who wants
information. While GM foods are the functional equivalent of traditional
foods, you simply don't want to appear to be hiding information from the
public even if there is nothing to hide. In fact, any campaign to prevent
labeling can quickly appear as if there is something to hide.

Instead, the approach should be that you would be more than glad to provide
labeling, but that the public should realize what this means in terms of
greater costs. After all, now you have to carefully segregate commodities at
each stage of production (corn to silos, corn flour, etc. etc.) Then ask the
consumer if they are willing to pay (x) to have non-GM labels. If yes, well
then there is a definite niche market, much like organic foods, which can be
handled. What you probably will find is that if asked in abstract whether
people support or are weary of GM foods, they will be weary of that which
they do not know. If asked if they would like to pay an additional 15 cents
a loaf of bread to ensure that there are no GM materials in the loaf, you
will get substantially fewer people agreeing.

In short, an effective campaign may argue that you would not want to impose
the mandatory cost (while explaining why that cost would be high) on the
majority of people who realize that GM food is safe. HOWEVER, you would be
happy to support voluntary labeling. After all, if the consumer demands
non-GM tortillas, grocery stores will demand Tyson certify a non-GM product.
Tyson will demand that Bunge certify the corn flour is non-GM and Bunge will
demand segregation at the silos. Before you finish, you will need some
respected non-corporate organization to explain the associated costs of
segregation. Otherwise, you will find consumers wanting to know why
corporations simply don't absorb these costs during a period of record
earnings and profits in the broad markets.