Chemical Sector Call For Tighter Controls On GMOs

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As the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility releases its 2013 Proxy Resolutions and Voting Guide today, seven resolutions related to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) indicate a renewed investor focus on the risks they pose to the world's food supply.

More than 60 percent of all processed foods available today, including many snack foods, contain genetically engineered (GE) ingredients such as corn, soy, or canola. While GMO seeds are widely used by industrial food producers due to their enhanced resilience, ICCR members are concerned about potential health and environmental risks contending that GMOs lack the long-term testing necessary to ensure their safety. Until they are deemed safe, members believe they should be clearly labeled on ingredient lists. GMO labeling is mandatory in Europe, Australia and China but not in the US.

Said Sr. Judy Byron of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, who leads the engagement with Kraft Foods Group Inc., "Concerns about GMO safety in the US are mounting, as evidenced by Prop37 and calls for tougher regulations from food safety and consumer advocacy groups on GE salmon." 

Proposition 37, a ballot proposal in California which would have mandated labeling of GMO ingredients, was narrowly defeated after an aggressive media campaign was mounted by its opponents, including food and chemical companies.

Continued Byron, "Public skepticism will remain high until the FDA develops meaningful regulations mandating transparency around their use in our food supply. Consumers'  'right to know' speaks directly to their trust/mistrust of food products and polls show that, in the case of GMOs, the public overwhelmingly supports labeling."

"These are reasonable proposals asking for due diligence on GMOs as a risk management measure," said Sr. Barbara Aires of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth who leads the engagement with Dupont. "As our resolution states,  'SEC reporting requirements include disclosure of environmental liabilities and of trends and uncertainties the company reasonably expects will have a material impact on revenues'.  These concerns create an uncertain business climate and substantial operational risks that must be carefully evaluated by management before GMO technology advances further into our food supply."

ICCR members have been engaging companies on GMO safety since 2000 with gradual but consistent success.  The investors seek broader support from shareholders on these proposals to convince companies of the need to be proactive on GMOs in advance of regulations. "In the absence of clear food safety policy on GMOs, it's the role of responsible investors to make the business case to management," said Margaret Weber of the Basilian Fathers of Toronto, who leads the engagement with ConAgra.   "The jury is still out on both the benefits and harmful impacts of GMOs to our food supply which implies risk; both to the companies that make the food, and the millions of consumers who eat them."

ICCR's 2013 Proxy Resolutions and Voting Guide and its Statement of Principles and Recommended Practices for Sustainable and Equitable Food Production are available online at iccr.org.