When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued his diktat against 20-ounce soft drinks earlier this year, the negative public outcry was tremendous.
Now comes the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility with proxy shareholder resolutions aimed at PepsiCo, the parent company of Pepsi Cola, Tropicana, Quaker Oats, Frito Lay and Gatorade. At issue is PepsiCo’s freely acknowledged use of genetically modified organisms in several of its products.
Apparently the ICCR takes umbrage with GMOs and, by extension, PepsiCo’s use thereof. The ICCR proxy resolution calls for PepsiCo to label all products containing GMOs.
Trouble is ICCR fails to make its case against the use of GMOs other than a list of studies offering inconclusive evidence. Additionally, ICCR doesn’t provide any theological underpinnings for its objections other than the shareholders’ respective religious affiliations.
The ICCR proxy resolution prompted Paul Boykas, PepsiCo vice president of Global Public Policy and Federal Government Affairs, to respond in a detailed letter on March 19. In his letter, Boykas states:
Approval of genetically-modified foods differs from country to country, both in use and labeling. The differences reflect regional preferences, long time history and governmental priorities. PepsiCo strictly adheres to the regulatory requirements within the countries it operates.
As the issue has developed in the US, PepsiCo has expressed its commitment to exploring ways to keep interested consumers informed. Challenges which we discussed with ICCR representatives include: (1) competitive issues if there is a voluntary agreement (2) how to ensure the consumer is really informed, rather than just providing a notice (3) what type of information is the consumer seeking, and how will he or she best understand that information (4) the precedent of requiring labeling that is only informational, rather than related to a specific FDA requirement. We also discussed a variety of ways to keep consumers informed from labeling, to markings, to links to websites and smart applications, as well as QR codes. As we discussed, PepsiCo believes a state-by-state remedy not only does not help, but is likely to hurt, the overall situation. It would confuse consumers as well as dramatically impact costs to the company in which you hold shares with no real resolution to the matter.
Boykas concludes: “[W]e would like to reiterate that PepsiCo is dedicated to producing the highest quality, greatest tasting food and beverage products in every part of the world. PepsiCo will only use products and ingredients which have met the standards of the appropriate governing food safety authorities wherever it does business.”
Unaddressed in Boykas’ letter are the reasons ICCR raised the issue in the first place. Certainly the ICCR members who filed the resolution (specifically: the Basilian Fathers of Toronto, Ms. Margaret Weber; Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, NJ, Sr. Barbara Aires; Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, NJ, Sr. Patricia Daly, OP; Adrian Dominican Sisters, Judy Byron, OP; Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sister Gwen Farry; Benedictine Sisters of Virginia, Sr. Henry Marie Zimmermann, OSB; and School Sisters of Notre Dame Cooperative Investment Fund, Ethel Howley, SSND) present no religious justification for their objections.
Instead the ICCR resolution seems based solely on a faith in convoluted ideology rather than sound science and theological doctrine.
It’s true that the “right to know is a fundamental principle of democratic societies and market economics” as the proxy resolution states. However, there exists no underlying Christian principle to demand unnecessarily an expensive labeling process that will more than likely raise prices for those newly educated who simply wish to enjoy a soft drink and bag of chips.
by Bruce Edward Walker, Acton Institute