Monsanto Grows Controversy on Genetically Modified Food

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Like a bumper crop after beneficial rains, spending by Monsanto (MON), DuPont (DD), Dow Chemical  DOW, Bayer CropScience and others have soared in food labeling lobbying efforts at the federal and the state level.

Monsanto, the world's largest producer of genetically modified seeds, had the sixth-biggest increase of any advocacy group active in the nation's capital, expending $1.4 million in the second quarter and $2.4 million in the third quarter of this year.

The Missouri-based company was very active on the Farmer Assurance Provision, which shielded seed companies from lawsuits and was called the "Monsanto Protection Act" by its critics. Overall, spending increased by almost 75% with $4.7 million in outlays through the first three quarters of 2012.

DuPont and Dow Chemical are also major players in the marketplace for bioengineered crop seeds.

Food labeling measures could have a tremendous impact on the bottom line of these companies as well as on shoppers, the industries contend. Bills for families would increase by hundreds of dollars annually. Making the labels costs the companies money and that cost will be passed along to consumers.That was the case made for defeating a recent measure in Washington state.

Over $20 million was spent by a consortium of food, agriculture and chemical companies to push back at attempt at requiring food labeling in that state.

Monsanto kicked in over $5 million. About $3.6 million was expended by DuPont Pioneer, the seed of unit of the chemical giant. Dow Chemical chipped in another $621,000. Monsanto and DuPont were the leading donors in a $46 million drive last year to defeat an effort to require labeling in California.


Both Monsanto and DuPont produce and market corn and soybeans that have been genetically engineered to withstand weed killers, while producing an insecticidal protein to fight pests without the need for additional chemical sprays.

The key areas of controversy related to genetically modified food are:

  • whether detailed labeling should be required by law;
  • what is the role and expanse of government regulators and at what level;
  • what are the effects of genetically modified crops on health and the environment;
  • what is the effect on pesticide resistance
  • is the impact of genetically modified crops positive or negative for farmers; and
  • what should be the role of genetically modified crops in meeting the needs of a rapidly growing global populace, particularly in emerging market nations where the health and food safety laws are not as stringent as in the United States.

At present, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration supports voluntary labeling by food manufacturers.

Greenpeace, the Organic Consumers Association and others support labeling efforts due to their contention that current regulatory efforts are anemic and the food derived from genetically modified organisms may be unsafe, threatening other sources.

While labeling efforts may seem benign, there would be a greatly increased legal liability for companies in the industry if the efforts prevail. It would also facilitate greater regulatory expansion for the other aspects of the role of bioengineering and chemicals in the food sector.

Opponents of more laws and regulations on the industry point out that esteemed scientific institutions such as the British Royal Society, the World Health Organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and others have determined that genetically modified foods on the market are no riskier than conventional foods.

Greater amounts on lobbying should be expected from Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical and others in the future. Monsanto recently hired the former chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Blanche Lincoln, as a lobbyist. For the former senator and others employed by Monsanto, DuPont and others, making the Farmer Assurance Provision permanent will obviously be a priority in the next Congress. At the state level, there will be more efforts, some repeats.

What will be new, however, is the higher and higher amounts expended by Monsanto and other to defeat food labeling attempts at all levels of government.

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Jonathan Yates does not have a position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article.

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