The anti-GMO movement took a major hit on Tuesday, when Washington voters defeated a high-profile referendum that would have enacted a genetically-modified labeling law in the state.
But announcements by McDonald's Corporation (NYSE:MCD) and Gerber Products Company stating that they would not use Arctic Apples, the world's first genetically-engineered apples, pending approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, emerged Thursday. The moves by the major food suppliers suggest that all the bad press on GMO foods is having an impact, despite any political wins the biotechnology industry has had in the ongoing fight over the products.
The international environmental network Friends of the Earth announced Thursday that Gerber and McDonald's wrote letters dated Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, respectively, confirming that they would decline to use the "non-browning" apples in their foods.
"As stated in your letter all of our GERBER fruit and vegetable purees are made without using GM crops," Gerber's letter reads. "We do not use Artic Apples nor do we have plans to use Arctic Apples in the future."
Genetically engineered foods have been a flashpoint for debate especially over the past year as companies like Monsanto Company (NYSE:MON) and Swiss-based Syngenta AG (VTX:SYNN) came under fire for promoting GMO products, and lobbying Congress and state legislatures to reject bills that would restrict them or require foods containing GMOs to be labeled as such.
The issue of GMOs in the food supply came to a head in March with the backlash over the so-called "Monsanto Protection Act," a measure written in cooperation with Monsanto lobbyists to limit the options of federal regulators if new health concerns about GMOs come to light. The language was infamously slipped into a continuing resolution passed by Congress to keep the government funded.
In the end, the U.S. Senate killed the measure in September despite Monsanto’s efforts to ensure it remained on the books, but the damage to Monsanto and the GMO industry had been done despite limited evidence of any negative health impacts on humans.
The Monsanto Protection Act was seen as largely responsible for virulent anti-GMO sentiment that coalesced in late May when an estimated 2 million people around the world took to the streets in the "March Against Monsanto," in an attempt to discredit the company and industry and draw attention to some of its controversial practices.
But the pro-GMO cause, which spent heavily on lobbying to defeat the measure, scored a major victory on Tuesday, when voters in Washington state rejected a referendum to mandate labeling of foods including GMOs by a margin of 54 to 46 percent, according to the tally as it stood Wednesday evening. More ballots remained to be counted as of Thursday morning, but with such a large gap the measure appeared doomed.
The controversy over GMOs continues to rage on as perhaps the most prominent of current food-safety issues, and these recent developments do little to settle that debate. What anti-GMO groups can't achieve at the ballot box appears to be taking place at the individual and company level, as the deluge of bad press regarding genetically-modified products continues unabated.