This week, a group of biotech seed companies including Monsanto, Dow and DuPont launched a website to combat mounting opposition to genetically modified foods among consumer groups and activists, according to Reuters.
GMOAnswers.com is designed as a "central online resource" for information on genetically modified organisms and their use in agriculture and food production, the Biotechnology Industry Organization said. The website is backed in part by Monsanto, DuPont, BASF, Dow AgroSciences and other companies that produce seeds that have been genetically altered with the intent of improving food production.
The website is part of a campaign by the biotech giants to counter the growing movement calling for GMO food labeling and for tighter regulation of the biotech seed industry in the United States. European opposition to GMOs is already strong enough that Monsanto said this month that it would withdraw all pending requests to grow new types of GMO crops there.
As part of the multi-year, multimillion-dollar campaign, the biotech seed companies will also open some of their fields and offices to visitors and host face-to-face forums around the country with consumers, according to Cathleen Enright, spokeswoman for the website.
Paul Schickler, president of DuPont Pioneer, the agricultural unit of DuPont, said anti-GMO forces have been using the Internet very effectively to get their message out, and the biotech industry wants to use the same strategy to combat what he said were notions "not always based in fact."
"This ... is an effort to increase the dialogue. That is all we want," said Schickler. "Dialogue is good. Over time I think we'll come to a common understanding."
Critics have predicted that the industry effort to change consumer skepticism will fail, saying there is ample scientific evidence that GMO foods can contribute to health problems in animals and humans, and are detrimental to the environment.
"This latest effort will likely do little to stop the consumer backlash against genetically engineered foods that has been brewing for years," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.
The most popular gene-altered crops can withstand weed-killing chemicals and produce their own insect-killing toxins. Bioengineered corn, canola, soybeans and other crops are used in human food and animal feed around the world, and biotech companies say they are heavily regulated and thoroughly tested.
The biotech industry has its work cut out for it in terms of turning the tide in favor of GMOs, as opponents across multiple sectors are taking a stand against them. While the industry spent $40 million to successfully defeat a ballot initiative in California to require labeling of GMO food last year, research suggests consumer support continues to grow in favor of GMO labeling; similar initiatives are pending in several other U.S. states and at the federal level. Investors are beginning to weigh in as well; earlier this year, both DuPont and Abbott Laboratories rejected shareholder proposals to remove GMOs from their natural food products.
Grocery retailer Whole Foods said this year it would require suppliers to label any product made with genetically modified ingredients and has joined Trader Joe’s and a host of other major retailers in committing to not sell genetically modified seafood if it is allowed onto the market. And Chipotle Mexican Grill recently became the first major restaurant chain in the U.S. to disclose GMO ingredients and is working to remove them from its supply chain.