‘Yes and yes’: Cargill successfully embraces both science and non-science

About 13 months ago Cargill sent out a tweet that unintentionally offended, and profoundly offended, thousands of North American farmers.

“We work closely with the #NonGMO Project & hope to have even more Cargill ingredients verified in the near future.”

The tweet, released March 2017, quickly became a public relations debacle. Hundreds of farmers hammered the private company for working “closely” with the Non-GMO Project.

“Oh no you didn’t! @Cargill – explain the hypocrisy! I’m shocked and appalled. Sad. Mad. Ticked off,” tweeted Cherilyn Nagel, who farms near Mossbank, Sask.

Other farmers were similarly enraged because the Non-GMO Project campaigns against modern agriculture.

The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit that verifies foods as not genetically modified and issues a non-GMO label.

But it isn’t neutral about GM foods.

“A growing body of evidence connects GMOs with health problems (and) environmental damage,” its website claims.

As well, the organization says there is “no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs.”

There’s one problem with those statements: they’re false:

• In May 2016 the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a 500-page report on GM crops. A group of 20 experts reviewed 900 papers, listened to 80 presentations and concluded that GM crops are safe.

• In January 2015 the Pew Research Centre polled scientists about GM technology. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said it’s safe to eat GM foods.

• The World Health Organization has said: “No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”

Other scientific bodies, like the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), have similar positions.

Returning to Cargill and the angry farmers, most producers in North America grow GM crops and a sizable percentage of them sell grains and oilseeds to Cargill.

Following its original tweet, Cargill said something less reported but more interesting.

Cargill clarified its position, saying it agrees with the science showing that GMOs are safe.

In the same sentence Cargill said it also believes that consumers deserve choices.

“Cargill has adopted a “yes and yes” approach – we believe in the science and its benefits, and we understand that both science and consumer values drive decision making.”

The nuanced position didn’t appease the online crowd.

“Sort of like selling ammo to both sides in a civil war,” tweeted Lawrence McLachlan, a farmer from Ontario.

Cargill, despite the criticism, hasn’t backed away from the Non-GMO Project.

Cargill states on its website that it has the “broadest portfolio” of non-GM ingredients and a number of them are Non-GMO Project certified.

The Cargill controversy is now old news and possibly forgotten, but not by other players in the food industry.

For other agri-companies the lesson learned is that it’s possible to pull off this sort of duplicity.

It’s possible to embrace science and non-science and get away with it.

It’s possible to sell into a higher value market, boost the bottom line and withstand the pushback from farmers.

Bunge now has a Non-GMO Project verified vegetable oil, labelled as Whole Harvest. The veggie oil comes from non-GM canola grown in Canada and non-GM soybeans from the U.S.

Cibus, a U.S. plant-breeding firm, is now selling a herbicide tolerant variety of canola in Canada that isn’t genetically modified.

It hopes to tap into the market for non-GM canola oil, as its canola will be grown for a Bunge crushing plant in Harrowby, Man.

Those companies can now sell into the non-GM space, while also claiming to support science and modern agriculture because Cargill has proven that the “yes and yes” strategy can work.

There may be a lesson here for farmers.

Writing angry tweets may feel good but they rarely change corporate behaviour, unless its tens of thousands of tweets from suburban consumers in places like New York, Chicago or Toronto.

If farmers really want to get the attention of a grain company, they’ll need a more focused and co-ordinated campaign – perhaps collectively refusing to sell grain to a company that works with the Non-GMO Project.

If growers are unwilling to take collective action on these sorts of issues there is another option – learn from Cargill.

The company’s assessment might be correct.

The new food market could be a “yes and yes” scenario where science and consumers are both right.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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Comments

  • Harold

    “Science and non-science” is right up there among the stupidest things that one can say. If there is a health problem with GMO it will be discovered by applied SCIENCE. GMO is merely a modification technology and the correct statement is – technology as applied or no technology. To accept the terms “science and non-science” is to bastardize the word science whereby removing or clouding its true meaning. Reporters would benefit by curling up with a good dictionary before they write their pieces.

    • ed

      The severe human health issues are well documented in science.

      • Harold

        Typically the reporting of today is a confused mixture between technology and science. They report science when they mean technology and they say technology when they mean science or they say or display that science and technology are one and the same. Science means “the study of” and technology means “the treatment of”. GMO and roundup are “treatments of” and they are a technology. One can be anti technology but they cannot be “anti – study of”, the meaning of the word science; the study of. You cannot anti-study: you either study or you do not study. Many technologies have been proven to be harmful to humans though “the study of” (science) so they are now in a sense – anti-technologies. (Banned) As you say, there are documents from the “study’s of” human health issues wherein researchers are trying to pinpoint a technology as being the cause, but with more than over 144,000 man-made chemicals in existence (technologies) which are often times hidden from consumers, the task is almost impossible, so what we have in the mean time is Pharma chemical treatments (another technology) to combat against chemical technology. The cure is the elimination of a technology causing harm and without that elimination we undergo treatments instead.

  • richard

    Does anyone here believe Cargill became the largest private company in the world by embracing anyones techno pipe dreams?…..I didn’t think so…… As Confucius once said…..”every crisis is an opportunity”…..and the PR disaster that monothematic, reductionist abuse of science has created for itself has no where to look but at its sorry self…..Cargill is simply delivering what the clients are calling for…. identity preserved, whole food……untainted by disingenuous corporate manipulation….

  • Neil Batchelor

    Cargill can hardly ignore a $550 Billion dollar Non-GMO global foods market which is growing at 16% per year. That is after all their core business being a global food supplier. Whatever your stand on the technology ( I use that word since there is plenty of science active even in the Non-GMO market), the wealthiest segment of consumers have spoken and growers would benefit from putting away the pitchforks and working together to see what premiums can be realized from that market. Or you can go right on selling GM commercial corn for $3 or $4 and spending 33% more on seed than you need to. Your choice.

    • Welderone

      Yes, the consumer rewards the growers with a price premium. As with organic and non organic prices. Cargill realizes this and wishes to have their products marked with NonGMO labels.

  • Sheryl McCumsey

    What bull. There certainly is science that points out a number of problems with this technology. To say otherwise is a bald faced lie. 750 plus studies- and it is difficult to fund such studies since they do not pay “Cargill” or any of the big chemical corporations raking in the dough from the selling of the pesticides to go with them. To keep insisting that one side of this issue is based on science and the other is not is exactly why you have lost all credibility.

  • Rob Bright

    Just more antiscience propaganda on behalf of the agrochemical/ biotech industry. Citing industry funded astroturf groups like the AAAS and pretending they are a science-based organisation instead of a pro-industry, industry funded,
    propagandist mouthpiece is a joke. (And by the way, the behemoth known as Cargill doesn’t give a rat’s @$$ what you write about them. They will continue doing whatever they want to make as much profit as possible. Your manic and disingenuous cries of, “But science!!” mean nothing to them — or any intelligent person who truly values actual science, for that matter.)

  • Kissing optional

    ‘Less reported, and more interesting, ” consumers deserve choices”
    Yes they do Cargill.
    And clearly labeled food choices, to boot.
    Why the resistance to that?

  • RobertWager

    The backlash against fear marketing began a while back and was very broadly demonstrated last week with the public outrage against Stonyfield. You can bet food companies are paying close attention to the turning of the tide.

    • Harold

      Perhaps you can explain this “backlash” and “fear” to me and the “outrage” and the “turning of the tide” because to me, all four are hyper-fictions that can be easily expressed as truly being consumer preference, conscience, concern, freedom of choice. Perhaps you were confusing the differences between “food companies” and Universities; they are not the same. Perhaps this is news to you but by WP policy, they delete things and choose things as well, don’t they. Are you going to tell me that A&W advertises for McDonalds? It seems to me that in these days, the academia have trouble recognizing the more than obvious; what do you think? These days, these so called intellectuals are rioting on their own campus so it really doesn’t surprise me that they too would try to campus Stonyfield as well.

    • ed

      It is even extra blatantly obvious now you are saying?

  • old grouchy

    Methinks that not only the author of the article but also the commenters just aren’t getting it. Really Cargill is not a ‘science’ based corporation – – – – its a profit making vehicle – – – period – – – full stop.
    Cargill does not care how it makes money (it loves the huge margins in the ‘organic’ or ‘fat free’ or ‘non-GMO’ or whatever have you markets) it just want to make lots of it. With that in mind – – – now
    re-read the article and all the studies – – – easy to see – – – isn’t it?

    • ed

      Yep

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