By Carey Gillam
Jan 28 Critics of genetically modified crops
protested at Monsanto Co's annual shareholders meeting on
Tuesday, calling for the world's largest seed company to provide
a report on contamination in non-GMO crops and to stop fighting
mandatory labels on foods containing GMO ingredients.
The requests came in the form of two shareholder resolutions
that were backed by environmental, food safety and consumer
activist groups. They said that more than 2.6 million members
support their efforts.
The resolutions come at a time of heightened debate over the
spread of genetically modified crops. Outside the meeting at
Monsanto 's headquarters in suburban St. Louis, Missouri,
about two dozen protesters waved signs criticizing the $15
billion agrichemical and seed company, and 10 people were
arrested as they attempted to disrupt traffic.
"We are asking for shareholders to vote in favor of
transparency," said Margot McMillen, a Missouri farmer and
member of the executive council of the National Family Farm
Coalition who introduced one of the resolutions.
Both shareholder resolutions failed to pass after Monsanto
officials recommended rejection of the proposals.
Company officials said the global debate over GMO crops
prompted them to rethink how they communicate about their
Chairman Hugh Grant acknowledged that the company has not
done a good job winning public trust, and told shareholders at
the meeting that the company was changing its approach.
"There is a recognition that we need to do more," he said.
One of the resolutions put to shareholders sought a report
on seed contamination of non-GMO crops, including costs of seed
replacement, and crop and production losses, including losses
associated with market rejections. That measure gathered 6.51
percent of the vote.
Critics say many organic and non-GMO farmers are dealing
with contamination, and often chemical drift, from nearby GMO
farms and should be compensated.
Monsanto executives said that the company already has
stewardship practices that works to protect the co-existence of
non-GMO crops with GMOs.
A related shareholder resolution called on the company to
work with government regulators to set a standard threshold for
foods containing GMO ingredients that should be labeled. That
garnered 4.16 percent of the vote.
Grant said the company supports voluntary labeling efforts
by individual food companies but added that mandatory labeling
of GMO foods could confuse and mislead consumers if there is no
meaningful difference in nutrition or safety of the foods.
More than 20 U.S. states are contemplating mandatory
labeling of GMO foods, and Congress and the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration are being pushed to act on this issue.
GMO critics say the spread of genetically modified crops is
harmful to the environment, most notably by fostering
herbicide-resistant weeds, and that the food made with the crops
can be harmful to humans.
But the companies say that the crops are proven safe and
that the proper use of the chemicals associated with the crops
by farmers can mitigate environmental problems.
The most popular GMO crops are corn and soybeans that have
had their DNA altered in ways that allow the plants to withstand
sprayings of herbicide and to resist pests.