The tweet seemed innocent enough.
Cargill was announcing its intention to expand its existing relationship with a verification body to certify that certain food ingredients it uses are not genetically modified.
“We work closely with the #NonGMO Project & hope to have even more Cargill ingredients verified in the near future,” said the company.
That tweet set off a firestorm of angry responses from farmers across North America, including one from Cherilyn Nagel, a farmer from Mossbank, Sask., and director of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association.
“Oh no you didn’t! @Cargill – explain the hypocrisy! I’m shocked and appalled. Sad. Mad. Ticked off,” she wrote.
Nagel, who explained her anger in an interview following her tweet, said she is annoyed that Cargill is proudly trumpeting that it has partnered with a group that is anti-GMO.
“Their goal appears to be the elimination of this type of technology,” she said.
Nagel has made it her goal to talk to consumers and “give them the real dirt” on what’s happening on farms today. She thought agribusiness companies were on board with that agenda.
“I was under the impression that our industry was doing a fairly good job coming together to generate messaging that works for everybody,” she said.
“When I see a company like Cargill, that is an integral part of our grain business, coming out and taking that kind of position, pandering, if you will, to this Non-GMO Project, I was hurt by that. I was offended by that.”
Randy Giroux, Cargill’s vice-president of food safety, quality and regulatory, said its affiliation with the Non-GMO Project is strictly limited to the company’s rigorous verification process.
“This is the most requested third-party certification among our food and beverage customers,” he said in an email.
Giroux said there is no bigger supporter of GM technology than Cargill and it shares the belief with most farmers that GM ingredients are safe to eat.
“I want to reiterate, we do not share the Non-GMO Project’s position on GMOs and would welcome other viable options in the marketplace,” he said.
“We are unshaken in our belief in the safety of GMOs and are wholly committed to our GMO partners.”
Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said farmers recognize there is a demand for non-GM, organic and hormone-free products and that those products need to be certified.
“I think those certification systems have to be transparent and unbiased and I think that’s what the big issue is with the company that they’ve hired is that it’s far from being unbiased,” he said.
Cargill uses an identity preservation and testing program to ensure its non-GM ingredients live up to the claim.
The company has a long list of ingredients that have received Non-GMO Project verification, including high oleic canola oil.
It sells the ingredients to food and beverage manufacturers interested in putting a non-GM claim on their products.
Bonnett said farmers are in-creasingly trying to be proactive with consumers on social media forums because they are tired of being vilified for their farming practices.
“I think they’re getting frustrated,” he said.
Bonnett said farmers are reducing their carbon footprint by growing GM crops that use fewer chemicals and produce more food on the same acre of land than conventional crops.
“When you use all the tools that you have at your disposal and then something like this comes out, I think it just feeds on that frustration,” he said.