COOL-ing Down Monsanto

I have to hand it to Monsanto.

A company representative on Twitter recently engaged me in a dialog about whether labeling products containing GMO food would do any harm, and, if so, to whom.

While the dialog felt like another cut-and-paste debate between me and previously published Monsanto paraphernalia, it offered just enough information about how Monsanto defends against mandatory GMO labeling. Clearly, anyone informed about consumer sentiments regarding GMO food knows that such labeling would devastate Monsanto and other GM seed companies’ bottom line. Which explains the vigorous, even suffocating effort by Monsanto to control the conversation.

The specific question I asked on Twitter was:  Dear Monsanto, What would be the harm in labeling GMO foods, regardless of whether same as non-GMO food?

I didn’t send the tweet to a specific person, so anyone was welcome to jump in. Thankfully, @Mica_MonsantoCo (Twitter name of Mica Veihman, Monsanto Public Affairs) decided to take a crack at answering my question. Some of her responses included:

  • “U.S. labeling laws are based on health & safety, not choice.”
  • “Harm is having mandated labeling of something that doesn’t have a scientific reason for it.”
  • “I don’t want food companies passing along cost of labeling to me for something they say has no bearing on my health or safety.”
  • “No it [organic] doesn’t have a scientific reason, that’s why organic is a marketing program.”
  • “Harm is making people think there is health or safety problem with their food.”
  • “We do not support a government-mandated label which is reserved for health or safety issues.”

Do you see a pattern? Visit the Monsanto link Mica provided during our chat and you will see the theme continued:

Some might ask what the harm would be in requiring the labeling of products. U.S. labeling laws are based on health and safety. Requiring labeling for ingredients that don’t pose a health issue would undermine both our labeling laws and consumer confidence. Ensuring that such labeling is accurate would also put a huge burden on regulatory agencies.

Again and again, Monsanto stresses that mandatory labeling for foods containing GMOs would undermine the U.S. labeling system. At first, it seemed like Monsanto might have a point. After all, “Certified Organic” is not mandatory, nor is “Non-GMO,” since neither relates to health or safety,  at least not from the industrial food system’s perspective.

Then I remembered the recently launched USDA Country of Origin Label (COOL) program, mandated by Congress through the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills.

The 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require retailers to notify their customers of the country of origin of muscle cut and ground meats including beef, veal, lamb, pork, chicken, and goat meat; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; perishable agricultural commodities (fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables); peanut, pecans, and macadamia nuts; and ginseng.

Did Congress implement this law because of health and safety concerns? No. It did so to assist U.S. food producers in establishing competitive advantage based on the assumption that U.S. consumers, if given country of origin information, would buy U.S. products over imported ones. No mention of health. No mention of safety. Nor have I read anywhere how COOL has undermined our country’s labeling laws or consumer confidence.

Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, summed COOL up nicely: “I strongly support Country of Origin Labeling—it’s a critical step toward providing consumers with additional information about the origin of their food.

Did you catch that? The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture highlighted consumer choice as the reason for a mandatory food labeling program. Given that 95 percent of U.S. consumers surveyed want GMO labeling, incidentally the same percentage that favor country of origin labeling, doesn’t it seem like leaders in Washington should step up for consumer choice again?

A less important, but still interesting question is how Monsanto can make supposedly definitive statements over and over again that  are factually incorrect and misleading?

That’s the Monsanto way.

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41 responses to “COOL-ing Down Monsanto

  1. Zachary Cohen

    Great post Rob. I’m digging and stumbling these right now. You really make the case elegantly. I personally was unaware that such a high percentage of consumers wanted the labeling…That’s pretty definitive to me. Also, one thing I have noticed is how uncreative PR types can be when defending the indefensible, and this case seems to be one in which the same responses keep coming back dressed up in various ways.

  2. Zachary Cohen

    Just reread, I want to know how does Monsanto believe that this kind of consumer choice would undermine consumer confidence or labeling laws? What is their argument for that?

  3. Thanks for taking the time to put this eloquent post together.

    As consumers we have the right to know if what we are buying is GMO, but I have a sneaking suspicion that 99% of the mainstream grocery store will have GMO labels on it if it does go thru.


  4. Classic damage control training, reframe and redirect. Like a magician who takes your eye off the target. Good job debunking.

  5. Kind of reminds me of how the tobacco industry’s spokeswoman handled issues.

    • Zachary: I tried getting Monsanto to confirm how labeling would harm consumers. The only thing they brought up was having the cost handed down to consumers “for something they say has no bearing on my health or safety.” We’ll see if they come up with something else.

      Heather: I share your concern regarding how much of the food consumers buy today already contain GM ingredients, but knowing will give consumers the choice to vote for the food they want and value with their dollars, and the food system will correct for that.

      Jacqueline: Well said. I wonder what will happen when the magician’s trick is understood but a majority of the public?

      vtknitboy: It is amazing that we can draw parallels with tobacco and the food we eat everyday. How can that possibly be acceptable? It can’t.

  6. Rob- Great article. 2 things: 1. I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks as I’ve watched the interaction between you and others with Monsanto via Twitter, and by using Twitter as the medium for the dialogue aren’t you limiting yourself to soundbites? 140 characters is a tough way to have a real conversation. This has been my frustration with the #sustagchat’s on Sunday evenings. I’m sure that the conversations on Twitter are indicative of any attemp of a conversation else where, but is there any other way to get them to engage?

    And 2. The response that stuck out to me the most is: “I don’t want food companies passing along cost of labeling to me for something they say has no bearing on my health or safety.” This has to be the most ridiculous answer. The majority of GM foods will end up being processed, pre-packaged foods which in a box with printed labels all over it. It’s not going to cost the food companies any more money to print “Contains GM corn” than it will to print a solid color. What a stupid argument.

    Thanks for taking all the time, energy, and patience it must take to try to engage with Monsanto on these issues.

    • Scochenour: While Twitter limits the depth of dialog, at least on a per tweet basis, and especially when more than two people are tweeting, I believe “micro-blogging” and “micro-chatting” offer great potential for capturing and dispensing information. As for other alternatives, being able to moderate dialog is the key missing piece and I am unaware of any available online “chat” options that offer that.

      Ray: Appreciate the advice on being careful. As a father of four, who is very concerned about our current food system, and even more concerned about where it is heading, I am not willing to stand aside. My expectation is that the collective arms of those sharing my non-petty concerns have far more power than Monsanto or any other large corporate interest can ever imagine.

  7. Great post Rob, but for God’s sake be careful! Think these folks have long arms, deep pockets and petty concerns.

  8. The “think” was placed in error. I know that you do not need to be reminded to think.

  9. Zachary Cohen

    Rob, another thought…if there current position is that as long as there is no risk to health or safety then they feel their is no reason for GMO labeling…then it follows that we now need to prove, or allege, that it is a threat to health and safety. I am sure they have backup BS just waiting in the wings. But i think the trick is to play on their turf AND our turf, equally and at the same time. CHARGE!

  10. Rob!! Love the post. Will def forward along. I agree with Ray in his statement to be careful. In Food Inc., it is actually against the law in the state of CO (for example) to make any negative comments against Food/Biotech companies and the products they produce.
    I found it funny when Mica said that Monsanto was not against labeling as long as the dairy’s followed the statement by saying there is no significant different between cows treated with or without r-BGH.
    Doesn’t that contradict our whole point?

  11. Pingback: Monsanto needs new argument for opposing GMO labeling :: The Ethicurean: Chew the right thing.

  12. It doesn’t appear that Monsanto was commenting on COOL. COOL and the labeling of biotech products are two different issues. The company’s position on one – GMO labeling – should not compare to what Congress does on country of origin labeling.

    Perhaps Monsanto doesn’t like COOL, either? I don’t know, but this post doesn’t help me figure that out.

    Instead it makes the leap that GMO labeling should be mandatory simply because of COOL.

    In some ways, COOL was proposed as a health/safety issue – simply because people would want to know if their chicken or beef came from China or some other country that had lower food (and feed) safety standards than the U.S. Since then it has been twisted in some circles as a marketing ploy. And perhaps it is.

    But to say Congress pushing COOL means Monsanto’s position GMO labeling is factually incorrect and misleading seems to be factually incorrect and misleading.

    • Mike: We meet again (virtually), which is why I’m not surprised that you disagree with my post.

      Your attempt to separate the logical points made in my blog post is exactly what I was expecting people with a vested interest in the status quo would do. For you, I am guessing many of Team David clients (e.g., NE Corn Growers Association, E-10 Unleaded, Missouri Renewable Fuel Association) would be negatively impacted by GMO labeling, thus your justification for taking such a position. No surprise, really.

      You are right about one thing. Monsanto did not comment on COOL during our dialog. But by implying in my conversation with Monsanto’s rep, as well as in published company documents referenced during that conversation, that mandatory food labeling is used exclusively for health and safety turns out to be inaccurate, no matter how you want to spin it, and spinning is what you are doing.

      I imagine Monsanto likes COOL a little less today than yesterday, as it really does shoot a hole in the primary argument the company is using to defend against GMO labeling.

  13. Very good article. There is enough evidence out there against GMOs. Even if there weren’t, 95% of the people should get what they want. Where is democracy gone?

  14. Rob,

    From what I can tell you are partially correct, COOL who’s original intent may have been for public health safety has altimately came down to a marketing device to help people choose from what country to buy (hopefully their domestic market).My thoughts on COOL is that it is one of the only forced labeling laws that has more to do with marketing than public health, and it ultimately does undermine the current labeling system in the US, as Monsanto said would happen if they labeled products as GMO in the US. A better labeling law that I would support is a way to source verify and trace all our food (not just animal products) because this could be a health concern, and if an outbreak would occur officials could quickly find out what field or animal the problem is stemming from and end it before there is a major problem.

    GMO Crops are hard to compare to the Tobacco industry, in tobacco there was alot of money spent trying to influence people to buy products that the Food and Drug Administration said was bad for our health (and also made them label as since it was a health issue). Since GMO products are food they have been tested and researched by FDA, and have not been found to have any public health risks. If individuals feel that their is still concern for GMO crops there is no law that says they cant buy food labeled organic, GMO free, etc; these are not forced labels but they are a marketing tactic that is used to sell to a niche market of costomers.

    I do not believe that GMO crops or proccessed foods are the problem with our health and obesity issues in the US, it is just the scapegoat for several people to blame their problems on. Can you find anyone that claims Fast food, carbonated beverages, TV dinners are healthy? What I do beleive is the problem in the US is that our society has become to lazy or to busy to sit down and have a real meal that everyone knows will taste better and is better for you, nobody has ever tried to hide this, not even Monsanto.

    • Mike: Thank you for taking the time to comment on this post, other than in a 140 characters or less. You obviously had much more to say. Do you have any historic information that discusses the original intent of COOL, other than as a mechanism to allow US consumers to “buy American.” I was not able to find anything, and without evidence supporting your suggestion of “public health safety,” much of your argument falls apart.

      I am also curious if you, or Monsanto, is able to produce any evidence that COOL has undermined the US labeling system, and, if so, how. Assuming such objective evidence exists, then I will need to rethink my position. Otherwise, I will continue to chalk such claims up to spin designed to protect a specific position, e.g., no consumer choice labeling.

      We are in agreement regarding the GMO v. tobacco industry comparisons. I am willing to bet the tobacco industry had an attitude much like the GMO industry does today when cigarettes were not labeled as hazardous. Just consider that in 1944 cigarette production was at 300 billion cigarettes per year. It wasn’t until Big Tobacco had to start defending its product from a health perspective, which started in 1965 when warning labels were mandated by the US Congress, that big money was needed to be spent to convince the public that cigarettes were cool, refreshing or whatever. It still amazes me that the FDA allowed such advertising of a known killer.

      Which brings me to the importance of not discounting peoples’ concerns of GMO foods. The industry is still way too young to know whether there are serious risks, although a number of sources are already making such claims based on the available history and related research. What if they are right? What if people are slowly getting sick due to unknown side effects associated with specific GM ingredients? Is it worth letting something that over 90 percent of Americans want labeled to remain a mystery?

      I for one can’t stand by waiting for the downside, which if left unchecked will create massive health and social issues for a large percentage of Americans.

      Can you?

      • Cool undermines the US labeling history just as you had originnaly led to above, until COOL there was no forced labeling unless it was a public health concern

      • Mike: You are making the same claim, but are still not providing any tangible evidence that COOL labeling has created problems. I need facts that support the argument. Simply saying that labeling is no longer the exclusive domain of “public health concerns” is not enough.

      • Never said that COOL is creating problems, it just underminds the US labeling system of forcing labels on something that is not a public health concern. It is hard to find something that never existed, If you can find another example of forced labeling of a product due to something other than public health concerns then it looks like I am off base.

        Happy hunting 😉

  15. M Haley:

    You say “Since GMO products are food they have been tested and researched by FDA, and have not been found to have any public health risks.”

    GMO products were never tested or researched by the FDA. The FDA relied on testing by industry before deciding that the novel foods were not substantially different enough from nature’s foods and therefore fell under the “generally recognized as safe” catch-all label. Any history of how GMOs came to be approved by the FDA will tell you that they were subjected to a level of scrutiny so laughable that it really shouldn’t be called scrutiny at all. “Intervention,” the book by science writer Denise Caruso covers this in great detail; for a quick by eye-opening summary check out this paper in the International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food (

    Do you think it’s OK that most Americans be kept in the dark about whether the government is taking precautions about what they eat? Or should only the well-educated, who can take the time to read science-y books and papers and learn about the risks, get to opt out of this massive experiment? That sounds like kind of an elitist system to me.

  16. Zachary Cohen

    Why are we talking about “forced” labeling? If Monsanto is proud of their products and their methods, they should want to disclose everything about their products, how they were made, what they constitute. Whether or not there is a public health issue, transparency is always best

  17. Rob,
    I understand the argument here, but I do have to point out that the existance of COOL in no way proves that Monsanto is disingenuous in its stance on GMO labeling. To speak specifically about Monsanto’s stand on the issue and then conflate that with a policy that has nothing to do with the products that Monsanto produces does not hold up well.

    I understand the premise but many, many organizations and industries had a hand in COOL. Its not as if Monsanto led the charge and jammed COOL through while refusing to support GMO labeling.

    Additionally, while COOL has become (for better or worse) a marketing advantage to U.S. beef, there are direct food safety concerns associated with foreign meat products.

    My main point is that the reasons Monsanto gave for opposition to mandatory GMO labeling cannot be thrown out because of the fact that COOL exists. The programs are too different to make that claim.

    I for one am not necessarily opposed to GMO labeling. I do have problems with the mandatory part of it and we see issues with such programs in Europe and Asia. Seems that a voluntary program would offer even more choice to consumers.

    I guess it would help to understand what exactly would the policy would look like. Definition of GMO, % allowed in final product before labeling, in processed products would each GMO ingredient have to be labeled.

    These were some challenges we faced with COOL. I know it seems easy to just call for a blanket requirement of GMO labeling but the science so far would not warrant it and the legislation or regulation would never see the light of day due to concerns like Monsanto’s and consumers both.

    • Agripundit: We already have “voluntary” labeling for “non-GMO” foods. We need the opposite: mandatory labeling of GMO foods. Anything else makes it difficult for consumers to have a single binary expectation (contains GM ingredients or doesn’t) when making food choices.

  18. Well there is the bias then.

    What is the difference between a mandatory label that says “non-GMO” and “GMO”

    You are walking on shaky ground there. Both are pretty binary. They mean the same thing. Its just the negative implication and scare tactic implied in one of them.

    • Agripundit: Why should a food processor that does not include something in their products carry the burden of telling consumers that there isn’t something inside? Can you imagine what food labels would look like if that were the case? It’s impossible to envision. The standard is for foods to identify what is in them, so I am at a lose to why that is biased or a scare tactic. Please explain for me and my readers.

  19. Point taken. The difference is that because there is nothing about a GMO that affects the health or safety of a food, they should not be thought of as an ingredient that needs disclosure.

    We don’t require standard products to be labeled non-organic do we?

    • Agripundit: Thanks for accepting my point. There is one more thing that I hope you will also accept regarding why we need to label: 95% of people want to know if the food they are buying contains GM ingredients. I know very few things where so many Americans agree. Can you ignore such a huge majority?

      • Also – the science is not conclusive agripundit. I am not sure why you are suggesting it is? We are JUST becoming aware of endochrine disrupters via plastic and their impacts on our children’s reproductive systems. The science is not in.

  20. Public sentiment based on a lack of information never creates good policy. I’m sure you of all people would understand the dynamics of public opinion research.

    We don’t require a non-organic label for conventional food.

    Should we?

    Furthering the organic and non-GMO cause by framing conventional practices as a pejorative and them requiring that producers propagate that pejorative is a pretty shady way of doing business.

    • Agripundit: The public concern regarding GMOs is real enough, and steeped in a history of corporations doing things that they knew were not in the public’s interests, e.g., PCBs, cigarettes, etc. So, when industry pushes back so hard on the public’s demand to know where GM ingredients are present, it does nothing but fuel speculation and reinforce those concerns.

      To compare organic and genetically modified organism in this context makes no sense to me, since using 100% natural techniques to grow food is what was present prior to The Green Revolution. Besides that, there is no public outcry for organic labeling so that people can choose NOT to eat organics.

      As for “pejorative,” you continue to imply that consumer requests for GMO labeling is somehow insulting, impolite, or unkind to industry, or that it is done in contempt, rather than as a means to fill part of the knowledge gap that exists between farm-and-plate. What am I missing?

      Although we may end up agreeing to disagree in the end, I appreciate the civil and professional tone of our back-and-forth. Cheers to you!

    • What you call ‘conventional practices’ are actually very very new. Conventional practices for most of our existence were much closer to what the sustainable agriculture model advocates.

  21. Pingback: You could become a criminal for organic gardening « Belladaze ~

  22. Where does your figure come from that 95% of consumers want GM labeling?? What is the source for that??

    I’m a consumer… I know a lot of consumers, and do not really care whether or not my food is GM or not. Just curious what your source for your fact statement of 95% is. Seems bloated.

    Basically we have been creating GM’s for decades through cross pollination and cross breeding etc… Don’t really see the issue, personally. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an advocate for either. But do support consumers “choice” AS LONG AS the consumer is armed with correct science based facts and data that are not skewed to become a marketing campaign as organic has become.

    Nothing gets me more riled than an ill-informed consumer that looks down their nose at a superior piece of meat solely because there is not an organic seal present. It is disheartening to know that consumers believe what they are told and have a perception that “organic” is somehow better for them than the alternative (and there are an abundant of alternatives).

    Another example would be the “angus” beef status to the consumer. It is really ridiculous, but unfortunately good marketing campaigns for a specific breed have sent it into “rock star” status. Facts are Angus grow faster for the producer, adapt well to US climates, and dress well for the packer so they are able to get “more bang for their buck”. The labeling of Angus Beef gave the consumer the perception that the Angus was somehow a superior meat, when in fact, it is not superior or safer or tastier. It is just another breed of beef.

    Consumers believe that all downer cattle have mad cow or some type of illness, so we must now ban their harvest. Or how about the “Enhanced feed ban of 2009” was to make our food supply safer (it was to open beef trade to S Korea). How about Ground chuck is somehow superior to just Ground…fact is the statement ground chuck has nothing to do with safety or superiority or even leanness for that matter, but consumers view these labels as superior. When in fact, if you want 85% lean burger, you should look for the statement on the label that says 85/15 and not chuck or round or sirloin. Those words are just marketing strategies and are basically useless in determining the fat content, safety, or superiority of the meats.

    I could continue with countless examples, but you get the idea.

    Perhaps that’s why Monsanto doesn’t support the labeling of GM’s. Blatantly false or loosely based facts become mainstream belief of truth. Without science based hard facts, I most likely wouldn’t support the labeling either. It would only further confuse the already confused shopper.

    Just my two cents worth, of course (or maybe a quarter’s worth).

    Twitter: @KyFarmersMatter

  23. Let me get this straight. The study that you are citing for “fact” of 95% of consumers want GM on their label comes from a study of 1001 adults over the age of 18. Considering that the US population is roughly 300+ million with roughly 25% of that population being under the age of 18, common sense leads me to believe that this is only a micro sampling of consumers.

    Further, in this particular study, 14% of the respondents surveyed stated they were “not responsible for food shopping”.

    While 35% cited they were equally responsible for food buying and only 51% cited they were solely responsible for food buying.

    One respondent stated they did not even know who was responsible for the household food shopping (I had to throw that in for humor’s sake).

    To start, 73% of the respondents felt the food supply was “safe”.

    Equally not surprising, the data contained in the study has nothing to do with GM crops, just GM animals. Quite frankly, the respondents didn’t fully understand what a GM animal was. For example: 79% of respondents stated they “strongly agree” that meat and dairy products from CLONED animals should be labeled as such, while 78% stated they “strongly agree” that food products made from Genetically engineered animals should be labeled as such. When rewording the same question, the “strongly agree” lost 1% points. Unfortunately the survey did not ask the question of the respondents if they knew the definition of GM animals. I would suspect that if the respondents were “farm natives” they would know that livestock has been genetically modified for generations. Creating breeds with characteristics that both benefit the breed, the producer, and the consumer has been done for generations. Crossbreeding and “culling” is much the same, just slower really. Our farm raises beef the “old fashioned” way meaning it is a cow-calf operation. All beef from our farm are born and raised there, but culling out bad traits is necessary for production and farm safety.

    Consumers are already quite ignorant when it comes to food labeling and inspection. Most have no idea which food groups are covered under FDA or USDA or a mixture of the two. Most have little correct knowledge of what “natural” means, “grass fed”, “grass finished”, “pastured”, “trans fat free”, “free range”, “monounsaturated fat”, “poly unsaturated fat”, “made with natural ingredients”, and even “organic”, etc… the list goes on and on and on. So let’s just add another label that they really don’t understand. Sure, that makes perfect sense.

    To make matters even worse for your study, only 49% of respondents strongly agree that cloning of food animals should be prohibited. Quite frankly, this is not a discussion that I care to have, but cloning is an emotional and perhaps a moral issue. I don’t necessarily agree with cloning on a moral level. I personally feel that this leads to other types of cloning and eventually leads to “A Brave New World” (Aldous Huxley, 1932). But in actuality the “safety” of the meat would not be in question. For starters, you would not be eating the meat from the cloned animal itself. You would be eating the meats of the offspring of the cloned animals which would be born and bred “naturally” and continue through the supply chain as usual. I do not wish to condone or condemn this practice. I only wish to dispel this 95% fact that you have thrown around quite a bit lately. It is not factual and it is quite misleading.

    This is the ideal example of why I feel you are not doing your movement the justice it fully deserves. When you are “preaching” to a crowd of your peers, this loosely factual information will be applauded and hailed as doing good for the neighborhood. However, when shouting statistics to those who grow the nation’s food supply that are less than accurate only lessens your chance of getting them to listen to you.

    Unfortunately for you, I personally would be considered one of your peers, but you lost me at hello. I was born and raised on a sustainable, self sufficient small family farm. (I also currently run one today). We grew the majority of our food. I am a small cattle producer and I direct market my meats to the local consumers. I frequent farmer markets to educate the facts, not the scare tactic fiction. I educate them on “food labels”, the wording, etc…what to look for and what to ignore. I work the local extension offices to educate consumers on food preservation, buying locally produced products, etc… I am a strong supporter of our state’s branding program, Kentucky Proud. I am also an advocate (not activist) for Kentucky’s small family farms. I also run a USDA slaughter and processing facility where I am able to allow other small farmers to further their knowledge of “meats” rather than livestock and enable them to direct market their own meats to the local public, restaurants, etc… We are a regional facility that is utilized by not only our own state, but multiple bordering states. We help them weed through the government regulations, teach them the yields and how to price their products, teach them best farming practices, etc… I enable them to use branding programs, by using my graphics skills to create them a unique image for their marketplace. I refer them to other national or regional branding programs, such as Certified Naturally Grown ( ) . Education with facts is key to their survival.

    I am one of your peers. I am however, also not pleased with the information you have been spouting out as truth without facts and science to back you up. It is not only detrimental to my business and small farm, but to the farming industry as a whole. Your message is getting lost in the rubbish. It may work for the foodies and localvore’s alike. It may even work with other small farmers across the country who are looking for movements that will increase their bottom line. However, it will not work for the majority who live the farming life and have for generations and it has not worked for me. It has become a source of great disappointment. You should rethink your approach, in my humble opinion (of course).

    After all, centuries ago we believed the earth was flat. Science proved the earth was in fact, round. I respectfully caution you against taking your movement forward without sound science to back your claims. Leading with emotion is absolutely no different than big brand marketing. It is just plain wrong. I would encourage you to listen to your opponents in the farming industry instead of discounting them. You could actually learn something from us (and by us I do mean both large and small). We live the life and don’t just read about it in a book somewhere.


    @KyFarmersMatter on twitter

    • Hello Amy,

      Thanks for your feedback. You obviously put a lot of thought into your comment, which I respect.

      Here are a couple quick thoughts on a rare sunny day in Vermont.

      First, Pro Food is not a “movement”. It is a framework for how I have been thinking about building entrepreneurial interest in sustainable food with the help of many others that know a lot more than I do about food. It is about finding new, innovative ways to bring more sustainably grown whole and minimally processed foods to an increasing percentage of consumers. What others do with the idea of Pro Food, including yourself, is not up to me.

      Second, I don’t have “opponents”. That is what I found six months ago when I jumped feet first into the middle of the existing debates about industrial food. My first impression was that people on both sides of the issue of food had dug in their heels, hell-bent on countering every claim (see your comments as example) made by people they don’t agree with. My objective is to create an impression of entrepreneurial opportunities for innovative people and investors to bring online new businesses throughout food’s value chain. It is a positive, proactive, inclusive effort, which I keep repeating because people keep trying to recast Pro Food’s intent.

      Like everyone, I have my preferences in what food me and my family eat. We spend a majority of our food dollars on whole and minimally processed foods by sacrificing other things that don’t bring us much value to our lives (in other words, we aren’t rich). We buy our food from the local food co-op (Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier, VT), the Capital City Farmers Market (also in Montpelier), and Wellspring Farm CSA (Marshfield, VT). We also planted our largest family garden ever (500 square feet w/ 40 vegetable varieties), which we hope will yield an abundant harvest during the growing season. We don’t eat fast food, and minimize our consumption of processed foods, sodas, snacks, etc., preferring to make such things at home.

      Our kids are fully engaged and highly supportive of these choices, as we find many of their generation who are increasingly recognizing the significant downsides of our concentrated industrial food system. In fact, they are currently thinking about developing a game on sustainable food with the objective of balance budget and health.

      Why I am sharing this is because I want you and others to know that this isn’t about being “anti” anything. It is all about being proactive as parents, professionals, citizens, consumers and community members. That is why I am not going to debate the merits of every thing I cite or opinion I hold and express. Instead, I will continue viewing the forest from the trees to ensure the accelerating progress of Pro Food does not get sucked back down into the weeds.

      Respectfully as well,

      Rob Smart

  24. I want things labelled so I can make the choice to avoid GMOs. I am not interested in what the FDA or Monsanto has to say on the topic.

    Do I or do I not have the right to know what I am putting in my body?

    I want to support non-GMO farmers. That too should be my choice.

    You know we were told plastics for decades were perfectly safe. Now we have a giant pile the size of Texas in the middle of the ocean.
    We now understand more about plastic formulations and endochrine disruptors than we did before.

    The science is NOT in on GMOs nor on nanotech, but there are giant well funded interests telling us – “It’s all good.”

    The science is not in. And no amount of PR can tell me it is.

  25. “Basically we have been creating GM’s for decades through cross pollination and cross breeding etc… :”

    This is a red herring. We are not talking about traditional hybridized varietals. I believe you know this. We are talking about organisms that mix genetic material across species.

    Do you acknowledge that? Or is this spin encouraging scientific ignorance? Or are you only focused on meat?

    Health concerns are also not the only lense through which to look at the way Monsanto is treating farmers who don’t follow them down the Monsanto path. I am sure you are familiar with these issues too.

    Nothing that pisses me off more than a paternalistic person that will tell me that it is better that I do NOT know something about a product – Than if I do. How is that respecting me?

    The definitions of those label meanings are available to people who wish to be informed. You seem to be arguing that knowing less, having less information is better. Could you clarify? Is that what you are saying?

    Again – speaking only for myself.

    • Hyperlocavore: I share similar sentiments regarding genetically modified organisms, especially regarding the science, which seems to have served industry, not eaters. This wouldn’t be the first time that this has happened (think PCBs, cigarettes, BPA). The concentration of power and money within industrial food has made it relatively easy for companies like Monsanto to steamroll its technology into the mainstream.

      As a seasoned technology veteran, entirely in things not edible, rushing something to market is high risk. Things go wrong, especially in situations not expected. That is why technology companies typically launch alpha and beta releases of new technologies before formal, broad launches. But all of the technologies I have worked with never went into the human body. They never played around with genetic codes. Yet our commodity food crops and intensive livestock operations are chocked full of GMOs, antibiotics, etc.

      This is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, people like you and other strong supporters of Pro Food, including entrepreneurs working hard to create compelling alternative food systems, are gaining traction. In time, like the whalers you mention, we find new ways for people to participate in our food system. We will find solutions that respect the value of money, the rights of people (including workers and eaters), and the power of nature.

      That is the Pro Food future I am working every day toward.


      Rob Smart

  26. I hope everyone in this discussion watches
    The World According to Monsanto.

    I have trouble taking people seriously who do not take these issues seriously.

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