Are GMO Boycotts working?

gmoboycAdapted from an article published by Organic Consumers Association

Election Day is behind us, voters in Oregon and Colorado had the opportunity to vote on GMO labeling (we missed having it put on the ballot here in Massachusetts but have hope for next go round). Colorado voted NO on GMO labelling, 84% of the vote is in and it looks like the margin is 68% to 32%, but in Oregon the decision is down to the wire. At the time of going to press, 68% of the votes were counted and it was 51% against and 49% FOR GMO labelling.   With over $16 million spent in OR, and over $14 million in CO, the agricultural and food giants are once again putting some serious capital behind their efforts to deter GMO labeling.

Leading the pack, of course, is Monsanto, with almost $9 million, and not far behind them is Dupont Pioneer, with almost $8 million. The remaining $13 million or so comes from big food corporations like Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg’s, and several others. As we’ve discussed in previous newsletters, these food giants are not only contributing huge amounts in opposition to labeling laws, they are also buying up natural and organic brands faster than ever. In essence, they’re playing both sides of the field. These companies know that many customers want food products with better ingredients, so they buy out the small, independent companies to help with their own bottom line. In the process, however, the values that once drove these small businesses and their brands to success are replaced with ‘profitable’ motives. More importantly, conscientious consumers have stopped buying them because they don’t want their money lining the pockets of these major food corporations. Of course, this begs the question: Are these boycotts actually working?

A recent analysis conducted by the Organic Consumer Association actually gives us an answer, and it is this: yes and no. To begin, any boycotting that’s being done of companies like Coca-Cola, General Mills, and Kellogg’s certainly hasn’t stopped any of them from donating millions to fight the labeling laws. There is, however, evidence that the boycotts have hurt the reputations, and in some instances the revenues, of the natural and organic brands which have been purchased by these large companies. For instance, the recent acquisition of the Annie’s brand by General Mills has actually led to a slump in sales of Annie’s products. Even more interesting is the overall decline of sales for several of the companies who have contributed significant funds to help defeat labeling laws over the past few years, such as Coca-Cola, with sales down 14% last quarter.

It’s a big leap, however, to say that any decline is directly related to the food giants’ opposition to labeling laws. It’s far more likely that declining sales are the result of multiple factors, such as changes in consumer spending habits, economic depression, or any number of other influences. Let’s not discount the power of boycotting these brands, though. According to data collected by SPINS (an independent information provider for the organic and natural food sector) sales for these companies show a slight decrease after the Organic Consumer Association began to call for the boycott of these very same companies. And even more interesting was that the sales for companies who donated money in support of labeling campaigns rose significantly—upward of 10% overall. While it’s not clear exactly what has led to declines in sales, it is clear that consumers are paying closer attention to what they eat, where it comes from, and whether the parent company supports GMO labeling—or any clean food practices, for that matter. For those who believe in the power of “voting with their dollar”, there is evidence that it seems to be working—and that we should keep it up!

Paul, Catherine, and Ronnie Cummins. “Is the OCA Boycott Working?” Organic Consumers Association. 23 Oct 2014.