Green America’s Immoral Anti-GMO Crusade
Religion & Liberty Online

Green America’s Immoral Anti-GMO Crusade

Readers will forgive their writer for being clueless when it comes to the connection between religion and mayonnaise. Ever since Woody Allen’s character pondered converting to Roman Catholicism in the 1986 film Hannah and Her Sisters by schlepping home a Bible, Crucifix, loaf of Wonder Bread and a jar of Hellmann’s mayo, I’ve wondered what on earth the condiment reference meant. About the sacrilege associated with Allen’s Wonder Bread allusion the less said the better, even during the Lenten season.

Yet earlier this month nonprofit Green America celebrated the Unilever company’s latest non-genetically modified organism (GMO) entries in its Hellman’s Mayonnaise lineup:

Green America congratulates Unilever on two new products announced today—Hellmann’s organic mayonnaise and Hellmann’s “Carefully Crafted” egg-free dressing and sandwich spread. Both products are made with non-GMO ingredients. The announcement of these products follows the introduction of Hellman’s non-GMO olive oil mayonnaise last year.

Hellmann’s USDA certified organic mayonnaise is made with all organic ingredients including organic/non-GMO and cage-free eggs. Hellmann’s “Carefully Crafted” sandwich spread is an egg-free, and cholesterol-free spread made with non-GMO ingredients.

The Green America press release goes so far as proclaiming the condiment brand “iconic,” which I suppose automatically grants it religious status among some faiths. So, there’s that.

However, lest readers forget, Green America counts among its allies many Christian investor groups, including As You Sow and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility as well as the myriad religious investment groups affiliated with Green America allies Ceres and US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investing.

The Green America press release continues:

“As the third largest food and consumer goods company in the world, Unilever has a responsibility to operate in a way that is environmentally sustainable and healthy for consumers,” said Michael Stein, food campaigns manager for Green America. “By offering organic and non-GMO Hellmann’s products, Unilever has made an important step towards this end and is listening to the demands of the 21st century consumer.”

GMO Inside, a campaign led by Green America, began educating consumers in 2014 about GMOs in mayonnaise. Because Hellmann’s is such an iconic mayonnaise brand, thousands of consumers reached out to Hellmann’s to ask the company to go non-GMO. In response, Hellmann’s began offering a non-GMO mayonnaise made with olive oil in May 2015.

Your writer chuckles mildly and continuously at the concept of an “iconic mayonnaise brand,” but also rankles a bit that Green America attaches negative qualities to GMOs:

Unilever’s latest announcement follows Campbell’s announcement of more non-GMO and organic products last year and call for mandatory labeling in January 2016. Momentum in the food industry’s response to consumer demand for healthier food is growing rapidly. In addition to Hellmann’s and Campbell’s, GMO Inside has also been successful in moving General Mills to offer non-GMO original Cheerios, Similac to offer non-GMO infant formula, and Hershey to switch to non-GMO sugar for some of its candy products.

“Consumer demand for organic and non-GMO products has been skyrocketing,” said John Roulac, CEO of Nutiva and co-chair of the GMO Inside Campaign. “As more people are becoming concerned with the ingredients in the food they eat and how it is made, it will be important for other companies to follow Unilever’s lead and offer organic and non-GMO options.”

Directly implied above is that GMOs are less healthy than organic foods, which is simply not true. Hellman’s, Campbell’s and General Mills, of course, are free to expend marketing and manufacturing resources as they – and their shareholders – see fit. But to employ bad science in such endeavors misleads the public into believing falsehoods that incite bad purchasing decisions of more expensive pantry staples when a less-expensive version would suffice for most households’ purposes. This is not only deceitful marketing; it’s immoral to its core because it employs scare tactics to dissuade consumers on limited budgets from making the best economical (and safe) choice for their family purchases.

Writing for Reason Magazine, science journalist Ronald Bailey makes not only the moral case for GMOs, but the scientific case as well. Bailey rebuts assertions by anti-GMO crusader Nassim Taleb:

In 2014, a group of Italian biologists did a comprehensive review of the last 10 years of research on biotech crops that encompassed 1,783 different scientific studies. These studies dealt with such concerns as the crops’ impacts on natural biodiversity, the possibility that they’ll exchange genes with wild relatives, and their effects on the health of people and other animals. In the review, the biologists concluded that “the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazard directly connected with the use of GM crops.”

So most scientific evidence finds that biotech crops are safe for people and the environment. What then are the benefits? In a 2014 meta-analysis of 147 studies, a team of German researchers reports that the global adoption of genetically modified crops has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37 percent, increased crop yields by 22 percent, and increased farmer profits by 68 percent. They conclude that there is “robust evidence of GM crop benefits for farmers in developed and developing countries.” Therefore it is no surprise that farmers around the world have (when regulators permit it) embraced these enhanced crop varieties. The global extent of biotech crops has increased more than 100-fold from 4.2 million acres in 1996 to about 450 million acres in 2014. Eighteen million farmers in 28 countries planted them in 2014.

Sound good? Yes, it does from where your writer sits as well. Bailey’s moral case for GMOs goes like this:

Finding no smoking gun, Taleb and his colleagues must hyperbolically conjure one and liken growing biotech crops to playing Russian roulette. They have it backwards. By pushing to ban biotech crops, Taleb and company are demanding that poor people continue to spin those metaphoric cylinders whose chambers are already fully loaded with real disease, hunger, and back-breaking labor. Modern biotechnology can empty a few of those chambers, and thus reduce the chances that when the trigger is pulled disaster will ensue.

“For [genetically modified] crops to be part of the solution, biosafety assessments should not be overly politically-driven or a burdensome impedance to delivering this technology broadly,” the ecologist Peter Raven has cogently argued. “Biosafety scientists and policy makers need to recognize the undeniable truth that inappropriate actions resulting in indecision also have negative consequences. It is no longer acceptable to delay the use of any strategy that is safe and will help us achieve the ability to feed the world’s people.” Fallacious arguments against developing and growing modern biotech crops is cause for great moral concern.

Wonderfully put. But it’s doubtful Green America and its religious shareholder cohorts will pay any attention to the science and morality of Bailey’s argument. It’s so much easier to spread unscientifically unfounded fears to further ends that hardly can be regarded as moral.

Bruce Edward Walker

has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. He was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010-2012. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2011 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past five years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Flint, Mich., with his wife Katherine.