“Monstrous,” “A gene from a fish (put into) a tomato,” were a couple of the reactions young children had to GMOs, which were used in a commercial for Stonyfield Organic in January of this year. And these reactions have stirred quite the controversy among consumers.
Stonyfield Organic began a few decades ago as a nonprofit organic farming school on a mission to help small family farms thrive, to keep food and its production healthy, and to help protect the environment. To fund this endeavor, co-founders Samuel Kaymen and Gary Hirshberg began selling yogurt made from the milk of the seven cows living on the school’s farm.
Now, 35 years later, Stonyfield continues to produce its yogurt, among several other dairy products, out of its headquarters in Londonderry, proudly stating that it is all made possible without the use of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, or GMOs.
In April, “Peel Back the Label,” a movement dedicated to uncovering the truth behind “Deceptive food labeling and marketing,” took notice of the 25 second Anti-GMO advertisement, saying that the ad was not only deceptive, but manipulative.
“It’s all about racheting up the fear to boost the bottom line,” Peel Back the Label said to close up its April 11 case study on the company. “Consumers deserve better than this.”
GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms, have been a subject of controversy for years. The dictionary defines GMOs as, “Organisms whose genomes have been altered by the techniques of genetic engineering so that their DNA contain one or more genes not normally found there.” With the growing interest in organic and whole foods in recent years, and for fear of nutritive value lost through genetic modification, more and more people have begun looking for the Non GMO Project Verified labels on their produce, eggs, and other foods.
While the main concern among consumers and public interest groups regarding the genetically modified foods is that they are unnatural and therefore harmful in some way, others claim that these advancements in biotechnology work to benefit consumers and farmers alike.
“I understand that science and advancement in technology may not be natural,” said Jenifer Tilton of Flood Brothers Farm in Clinton Maine, a farm which supports the Peel Back the Label campaign, “But on the other hand, the more we’ve used biotechnology, we’ve had extra time to really work on growing the health of our land.”
Tilton explained that through the use of GMOs and Biotechnology, farmers have the potential of reducing the carbon footprint through more efficient planting. According to Tilton, her farmers have been able to use far fewer inputs in growing genetically modified seeds, and they are able to use less fuel and labor, reducing costs and growing healthier plants with disease and pest resistance.
Regarding the ad in question, Kristina Drociak, Head of Public Relations of Stonyfield Farm in Londonderry, answered that the intention was to start a conversation among families about what is in the products that they buy. She explained that the youngsters’ reactions were completely unscripted, and that they were simply asked to talk about what they knew about the subject of GMOs.
“We asked kids what they thought,” Drociak said. “This one with the tomato and the fish, we’re not standing here saying we believe that is true, we asked her what she thought (GMO) was, and somewhere she must have heard that.”
Drociak mentioned that as a company, Stonyfield believes in transparency, and that they believe consumers have the right to know what is or isn’t in the food that they purchase.
On the other side of the GMO coin, Tilton stated that Peel Back the Label is also asking for transparency. “I’m all for promoting yourself,” said Tilton, “But if your only way is from saying someone else is doing it wrong…I think you’re doing it wrong.”
Drociak mentioned that the controversial commercial has had no impact on product sales, and that Stonyfield will continue its mission to be a force for change and to make the world a better place through food. For its 35th anniversary, Stonyfield has made a commitment to working with 35 communities across the country to remove harmful agents in children’s parks, hoping to spread awareness for the use of pesticides beyond food.
As for whether or not the commercial was deliberately attacking other companies, Drociak reiterated that it was simply a matter of supporting consumers’ right to know, as according to a recent survey by the Center for Food Safety, 89% of consumers favor mandatory labels to indicate whether or not a product uses GMOs.
“We’re not sitting here saying they’re safe or not,” Drociak stated. “We’re just saying, ‘Why can’t we just have a label?’”
For further information regarding Peel Back the Label’s efforts, visit www.peelbackthelabel.org. For further information on Stonyfield Organic, its products, and 35 Years, 35 Communities, visit www.stonyfield.com.