Mixed message Pulse company president grilled for stressing importance of innovation and sustainability while promoting non-GM products
The president of one of the world’s largest pulse processing firms was taken to task at a recent research conference for promoting pulses as non-genetically modified crops.
Murad Al-Katib, president of Alliance Grain Traders, had just finished a presentation where he stressed the importance of continued innovation in the pulse sector.
But he also spoke at length about how his company uses the sustain-ability, gluten-free and non-GM aspect of peas, lentils and chickpeas as a major sales pitch to food companies and consumers.
That didn’t sit well with Douglas Cook, professor of plant pathology at the University of California, Davis.
“I worry that you send a very mixed message. I don’t know if it’s because of your personal opinion or because of your business interests,” he told Al-Katib during a question and answer session.
Cook couldn’t understand how Al-Katib could stress the importance of innovation and sustainability while singing the praises on non-GM crops.
He said the major innovation in agriculture in the last 20 years has been GM crops. The technology has resulted in increased sustainability through things like reduced tillage.
“The single most important tool towards that end has been herbicide resistant crops,” said Cook.
He added that the Bt toxin trait has significantly reduced the amount of insecticides applied to crops such as cotton around the world.
Cook said companies like Gerber have gone the non-GM route, but they have publicly stated that the technology is safe and important for the future of the world.
He admonished Al-Katib for promoting the non-GM attribute of his pulse crop products without providing a similar defence of the technology.
“You have the resource and you’re working with a global corporation and I think you have a responsibility,” said Cook.
Al-Katib shrugged off the criticism.
“You probably won’t appreciate this response, but to me it’s not my job to be a judge or a jury on the issue,” he said. “What I’m reacting to is the consumer demand today.”
Cook said Al-Katib is not as indifferent about the technology as he lets on.
“That’s the problem is you use it as a marketing tool,” he said. “It’s OK to avoid it in a discussion, but you actively promote it and there is the problem. You’re not ignoring the issue. You’re not staying out of the debate. You’re engaging in it directly.”
Al-Katib conceded that was the case, but he is not about to change his marketing approach.
“You know what? You’re absolutely right. I’m actively promoting non-GMO because it’s an opportunity for our company. You’re absolutely correct. And I’m not going to shy away from it,” he said. “Today the consumer in the world is driving the argument. They may be uninformed but they are driving the argument.”