By KEVIN WALKER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A coalition of environmental groups named GMO Inside has banded together to campaign against genetically modified (GMO) foods. GMO Inside started its campaign, called Fresh Start For 2013, last year after California voters turned down an effort to require food companies to label products containing GMO material. That ballot measure was Prop 37.
“We’ve been concerned about this issue for a while, and launched this campaign the day after the election,” said Elizabeth O’Connell, campaign director for GMO Inside. “We’ve chosen every month to focus on a different company and product. Overall we’re going to target General Mills. They were one of the largest spenders against Prop 37.”
In February, the group will focus on chocolate makers and, in March, on beverage companies, and so on. It is asking consumers to get involved by going to the group’s website and signing its petition asking the targeted company to do certain things.
The group is asking people to “take action” on Facebook walls of companies, for example, said Shireen Karimi, campaign coordinator of GMO Inside. General Mills makes breakfast cereals including Cheerios, Chex, Kix and Lucky Charms, and owns the Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and Hamburger Helper lines of products.
Kellogg’s, another cereal maker being targeted by the campaign, makes Corn Flakes, POPS, Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes and Special K. It also owns Morningstar Farms, Pop Tarts and the Keebler brands, among others.
O’Connell said the campaign is also advocating consumers place the group’s GMO warning labels on company products. The labels state “Caution: May Contain Genetically Engineered Ingredients.”
She said people aren’t supposed to place the labels on products that haven’t been sold, but that they could be placed on products at the homes of friends or acquaintances, to remind them that a particular product contains GMO ingredients.
GMO Inside is also asking Kellogg’s and General Mills to agree not to fund any opposition to I-522, a Washington state ballot measure for GMO labeling that will be up for a vote in November, or any other similar initiatives that might come up in other states.
“Hopefully, we can win this battle in a year, but you never know with this,” O’Connell said. “We’re calling for the company to label their products if they have GMOs in them, or take GMOs out of their food altogether.”
During last year’s campaign against Prop. 37, food makers and other companies with an interest in the issue stated a requirement to label food products that have GMO material in them would cause food prices to rise about $400 a year, on average. But O’Connell doesn’t think that’s necessarily the case. Foods in Europe that have GMO material in them have to be labeled, and both Kellogg’s and General Mills have products in Europe that are GMO-free, she said.
Kirstie Foster, a spokeswoman for General Mills, wasn’t aware of the campaign when asked about it. She issued the following statement in response to the GMO Inside effort. “We have long opposed state-by-state labeling, as we openly and transparently explained on our website months ago,” she said. “We were not alone in taking that position. Most of the food industry opposed Prop 37 for the same reasons.
“Some of those unhappy with Proposition 37’s defeat are now targeting companies that opposed it. But we remain opposed to state-by-state labeling, for the reasons we’ve explained.”
O’Connell noted the Fresh Start for 2013 campaign is being financed by a single donor, but she said that donor wishes to remain anonymous. To find out more about the campaign, go to the group’s website at http://gmoinside.org
To view General Mills’ complete statement on the labeling issue, go to www.generalmills.com and click on Responsibility, then Environment, then Packaging, then State-by-State labeling on the right side.