MEDIA WATCH: GMO industry unable to shake ’Frankenfood’ image

In late January, Frito-Lay announced to its suppliers that it would not use corn made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Although Frito-Lay believes such foods are safe to eat, increased consumer concern was cited as the reason for the announcement. ’Because we’re a consumer products company, we’re stepping back, sitting on the sidelines and waiting and watching,’ said a Frito-Lay spokesperson. ’It’s a prudent step in which we are waiting to see where the FDA and the industry goes’ (Washington Post, February 6). Some media reports described the move as ’an overreaction,’ but others described competitors as ’plainly rattled’ by the decision.

In late January, Frito-Lay announced to its suppliers that it would not use corn made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Although Frito-Lay believes such foods are safe to eat, increased consumer concern was cited as the reason for the announcement. ’Because we’re a consumer products company, we’re stepping back, sitting on the sidelines and waiting and watching,’ said a Frito-Lay spokesperson. ’It’s a prudent step in which we are waiting to see where the FDA and the industry goes’ (Washington Post, February 6). Some media reports described the move as ’an overreaction,’ but others described competitors as ’plainly rattled’ by the decision.

In late January, Frito-Lay announced to its suppliers that it would

not use corn made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Although

Frito-Lay believes such foods are safe to eat, increased consumer

concern was cited as the reason for the announcement. ’Because we’re a

consumer products company, we’re stepping back, sitting on the sidelines

and waiting and watching,’ said a Frito-Lay spokesperson. ’It’s a

prudent step in which we are waiting to see where the FDA and the

industry goes’ (Washington Post, February 6). Some media reports

described the move as ’an overreaction,’ but others described

competitors as ’plainly rattled’ by the decision.



This was one of several events in recent weeks that prompted increased

discussion of GMOs in the US media. It is common knowledge that European

consumers have expressed their distaste for GMOs. CARMA’s examination of

recent coverage on the subject revealed the issue is gaining more

attention in the US, with the media drawing more attention to GMO

opponents than proponents.



Media reports most often expressed consumers’ fears of possible dangers

associated with GMOs. USA Today (February 14) reported an anti-GMO

movement underway by ’religious groups, environmentalists and socially

conscious investment funds ... to halt the development, use and sale of

GMO crops and foods until long-term tests prove them safe for humans and

the environment.’ Articles noted that consumers resented the fact that

so much GMO food is already on the market, with consumers unaware of

what they are eating.



There were also reports that addressed the promise of GMO’s possible

benefits, which include increased yields for farmers on healthier foods

that do not require pesticides. A frequently cited example of a GMO

success story was the development of a strain of rice with Vitamin A,

the lack of which was said to have caused blindness in developing

countries. However, coverage suggested that the industry has done an

inadequate job of promoting the benefits of GMOs. According to National

Public Radio (February 4), ’The industry has mishandled its public

relations as badly as it could have if it really tried to.’



The media often noted that the public is undecided about whether it

would knowingly consume GMO products. Coverage suggested that the public

might think of GMOs in terms of mad scientists creating ’Frankenfoods’

(Santa Fe New Mexican, February 16). There were several calls to provide

the consumer with more information to make a better-informed choice on

the matter. As one industry analyst told The Wall Street Journal

(January 28), ’The consumer, if given a choice, is going to gravitate

toward non-GMO.’



One of the suggested ways to help consumers is to provide labeling on

products. The media provided more coverage of efforts to place labels on

consumer food products than of the industry’s claims that such labels

were unnecessary.



In general, media coverage indicated there has been increased awareness

of this issue among consumers. Furthermore, there were predictions that

this awareness would continue. Industry PR officials may be interested

in increasing activities on their side of the story, before activists

place them even more on the defensive.



Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International Media Watch can be found

at www.carma.com.



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