A group of socially concerned US investors has launched a public campaign calling on food companies not to use a controversial new genetically engineered sugar beet crop that is to be planted for the first time this spring.
The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) is calling on consumers to write to 63 companies, including Heinz, Campbell’s Soup, General Mills and Kraft, asking them to say they will not use a new sugar beet strain developed by Monsanto.
The ICCR is a coalition of more than 300 faith-based institutional investors that has been in the vanguard of successful efforts to make companies more responsive to a range of social and environmental concerns.
In a break with its usual focus on shareholder resolutions, it has launched a web-site, www.dontplantGMObeets.org, that calls on consumers to send letters to the management of the food companies that are the focus of its campaign. The letter cites survey claims that 50 per cent of US consumers would prefer not to buy GM products, and calls on the companies “to publicly oppose the spring 2008 planting of genetically modified sugar beets”.
The “Roundup Ready” sugar beet in question was approved for planting by the US Department of Agriculture in March 2005. It has been genetically engineered to make it resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.
In January, four activist groups opposed to GM crops, including the Sierra Club, the largest US environmental group, filed a lawsuit in California calling on the agriculture department to review its approval of the beets.
A similar lawsuit led a federal judge to issue a nationwide ban last year against further planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa, pending a further environmental review by the federal government.
Leslie Lowe, of the ICCR, said that leading food companies, including McDonald’s, Campbell’s Soup, General Mills and Anheuser Busch, had already chosen not to use a variety of genetically engineered ingredients. “This is a front-burner brand, reputation and consumer confidence issue [for the companies],” she said.