PepsiCo's 2009 shareholder proxy report contains a proposal (pg. 61) that paints a clear picture of the company's use of genetically-engineered (GE) food ingredients and its attitude toward this issue. The proposal describes a loose plan to remove GE ingredients from Pepsi's products in order to maintain "Company product integrity." The concern, archived for public record in the report, is that Pepsi products contain "potentially GE" corn, rice, canola, soy and sugar.
The controversy of GE crops is not a new one. For years, proponents of the biotech industry have maintained that GE crops are completely safe for human consumption and will benefit the world, while campaigners against GE foods have contended that the long-term dangers of this branch of science are unknown and uncontrolled. We now know that GE crops can pose extreme dangers for human consumption, animal consumption and for the biodiversity of the environment.
The report cites twelve well-documented incidences or studies in which the dangers of GE crops are clearly demonstrated. The evidence includes a 2007 study conducted in Paris, France, where rats were fed GE corn made by US biotech giant Monsanto. The results, which were published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, were very unfavorable for the corn. The rats showed "signs of toxicity" in the kidneys and liver and developed problems in those organs.
In 2005, a GE pea developed by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization provoked a strong immune response in laboratory rats when tested by scientists from the John Curtin Medical Research School in the city of Canberra. The tests carried out on the pea were of the kind normally undertaken on drugs, not on food. US law does not require this kind of testing and so it is highly probable that the pea would have been approved if it were tested in the US. The findings were published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (2005). The study concluded that, "These investigations, however, demonstrate that transgenic expression of non-native proteins in plants may lead to the synthesis of structural variants with altered immunogenicity." In other words, GE plants can lead to unpredictable immune responses in humans.
In another 2005 incident, Syngenta admitted that it had accidentally sold unapproved genetically modified seed corn (Bt 10) in the US for four years (2001-2005). The mistake resulted in about 15,000 hectares planted with the unapproved variety and about 133 million kilograms of the corn making its way into the food supply.
The evidence in Pepsi's proxy report represents a fraction of the evidence available yet it alone sends a clear message that GE foodstuffs are potentially dangerous. The proposal clearly presented this information to Pepsi and its shareholders and recommended that GE ingredients be removed from Pepsi's products.
To quote Pepsi's response to the proposal: "We believe that genetically-modified products can play a role in generating positive economic, social and environmental contributions to societies around the world; particularly in times of food shortages." Pepsi's Board of Directors recommended that the shareholders vote against the proposal.
PepsiCo products include:
- Mountain Dew
- Amp energy drink
- Sun Chips
- Lays potato chips
- Tropicana juices
- Dole juices
- Quaker Oats
- Aunt Jemima Syrup
"Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food.... Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job."
-- Phil Angell, Director of Corporate Communications, Monsanto, quoted in the New York Times Magazine, October 25, 1998
"Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety."
-- FDA, "Statement of Policy: Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties", (GMO Policy), Federal Register, Vol. 57, No. 104 (1992), p. 22991