On January 30th, Moms Across America founder Zen Honeycutt, carrying a stock proxy, attended the Monsanto shareholders January 30th meeting, held in St. Louis Missouri, at Monsanto’s corporate headquarters. Her message wasn’t a new one: she carried reports of scientific studies and statements of concern about Roundup’s primary ingredient, glyphosate, and its health impact on humans–and children.
This wasn’t the first year protesters have appeared at a Monsanto’ shareholders meeting. In January 2013, food safety activist Adam Eidinger bought 75 shares of Monsanto stock so that he could speak against their use of GMO technology at their annual meeting. In early 2014, Eidinger again attended the Monsanto shareholder meeting, this time bringing a resolution forward for shareholders, asking for a vote in support of labeling GMO foods. At that meeting another activist investor, John Harrington, presented another resolution addressing Monsanto’ liability for organic farming operations. Not surprisingly, both resolutions failed.
To date, initiatives to label GMO foods have been on the ballot in California, Oregon, Washington State, and Colorado. Oregon’s vote was close, and required a recount. California’s vote was called early on the eve of the vote, and proponents of the initiative allege improper handling by state authorities. In Vermont, the legislature took the historic step of passing the legislation to require labeling of GMO foods.
Another new initiative for state labeling of GMOs has emerged: Right to Know Minnesota is working to get mandatory GMO labeling before Minnesota voters.
In every state where initiatives to label GMOs have been on the ballot, Monsanto and a coalition of big food corporations, along with the Grocery Manufacturers Association, spent millions to oppose labeling. In the only state where it was approved, Vermont, this same coalition has filed suit to stop the legislation. Early in 2014, in response to the state initiatives, supporters of the status quo led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association found a Republican congressman from Kansas, Senator Pompeo, to sponsor legislation banning states from labeling GMOs.
HR4432, known to opponents as the “Dark Act,” is currently sitting in committee.
The poor record of success of GMO labeling initiatives is not consistent with the documented broad base of consumer support to label GMOs. A 2012 Mellman Group survey showed 91% of Americans support GMO labeling. And according to the Non GMO Project, more than 60 countries around the world have banned GMO technology in foods. (Putin recently banned GMOs in Russia.) And the Non GMO Project label is the fastest growing food certification in the US.
Yet in the US, corporate interests have spent millions to oppose labeling of GMOs–not banning the technology itself, but rather the opposition has been against the simple labeling of GMO ingredients.
Maybe it’s time to look at the financial structure surrounding Monsanto.
Monsanto stock currently sells for around $120 a share. The total number of shares of Monsanto are around 525 million–and on the average day about 4 million shares are traded.
Ironically the largest stockholder is an entity called Vanguard Group , an investment group also heavily invested in Whole Foods. Vanguard is based in Pennsylvania, and according to Wikipedia has assets totaling over $3 trillion. It’s a mutual fund company–meaning that many US citizens with retirements holdings are using Vanguard.
Efforts to label GMOs in the US seem truly to be the battle of the little guy versus the big guy, a story of David against Goliath. But the story is more complex than that, as is apparent with Vanguard’s role–meaning that many average US citizens are invested in Monsantostocks, many likely without their knowledge as they are reliant upon anonymous decisions made in their 401K plans.
Perhaps the battle needs to be taken to the stockholders but in a manner much more comprehensive than simply showing up at a shareholders meeting. How many Moms Across America members are looking at the details of their retirement plans? How many concerned citizens are asking for responsible stock investment that is based not only on returns but also on ethical values?
Monsanto’s chief goal is to make money; addressing concerns through the investment process may be more effective than any voter initiative.