Acton Institute counters faith-based activism against GMOs

A growing number of shareholder activist groups, many of which are religious-based, have strongly opposed the use of GMOs. | File photo

Controversy continues to swirl around the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food, igniting strong opinions on whether food containing GMOs should be labeled, what role government and regulatory agencies should play in the use of GMOs, what effect GMO crops have on health and the environment, and whether or not GMOs lead to pesticide resistance.

Bruce Edward Walker of the Acton Institute, a nonprofit research organization that studies and promotes free-market economics informed by religious faith and moral principles, recently told Crop Protection News why he is speaking out against GMO opposition grounded in the name of religion.

Many who support the use of GMOs argue that genetically modified crops play a vital role in feeding the world population because they increase crop yield exponentially, and have not been proved to pose significant health or environmental risks.

In recent years, however, a growing number of shareholder activist groups, many of which are religious-based, have strongly opposed the use of GMOs in food and have tried to use their stake in corporations using GMOs to pressure management to either reduce the number of GMOs in the company’s products or eliminate them altogether.

"Acton noticed that there existed many religious investment groups that were engaging in shareholder activism by submitting proxy resolutions to companies in which they held shares,” Walker told Crop Protection News. “These resolutions had more to do with leftist and progressive ideology than they had to do with religious doctrine."

When asked what negative impact such shareholder activism has on the humanitarian, economic and environmental benefits of genetically modified crops, Walker said it alarms consumers by equipping them with information that is not true.

"One of the initiatives pursued by so-called religious activists spreads untruths about genetically modified organisms while campaigning to label GMOs or eliminate their use entirely,” he said. “Not only is this bad science, it's bad for the production and marketing of affordable foods across the globe. It drives up costs of food while decreasing crop yields. How does this assist the poor, about whom Christ taught us to be most mindful as His followers?"

In one of his blog posts, Walker shared an email he had received from Green America, an organization that promotes ethical consumerism, celebrating a decision by Mars, maker of M&Ms and Skittles, to remove artificial colors from all of its human products.

There have been reports stating chemicals used in artificial food coloring contain potential cancer-causing chemicals and may trigger reactions in people with allergies.

The email went on to encourage people to tell Mars to take another step and offer non-GMO human and pet food products because, the organization asserts, GMOs have never been proved safe for consumption and are designed to go hand-in-hand with harmful pesticides, like glyphosate, which creates bacteria and weeds immune to these chemicals, thus requiring stronger and more toxic pesticides.

Walker said Green America’s fears are exaggerated because, although the World Health Organization warned about glyphosate’s potential carcinogenic properties in a 2015 report, it classified glyphosates in Group 2A.

“Group 2A means that the agent is probably carcinogenic to humans,” the report stated. "This category is used when there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. Limited evidence means that a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer but that other explanations for the observations -- called chance, bias or confounding -- could not be ruled out.”

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Acton Institute 98 Fulton St E Grand Rapids, MI 49503

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