Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever, spent $467,100 against ballot measure Proposition 37, the recent failed referendum to mandate GMO labeling, in California last year.
But Ben & Jerry’s has distanced itself from the actions of its parent company, despite a call for a national boycott against Ben & Jerry’s and other firms whose corporate parents spent money on advertising favoring a no vote on Prop 37.
Now Katherine Paul, communications director for OCA, says her advocacy group is trying to persuade Ben & Jerry’s to publicly criticize Unilever’s political spending, and also to contribute financially to any Vermont GMO legislative efforts.
“We would love for Ben & Jerry’s to come out and be the first of these companies who stands up to their parent companies, and says, ‘Consumers have the right to know; you shouldn’t be spending all this money to keep us in the dark’,” said Paul.
“We think that of all these companies, based on their mission, their roots, and their purported interest in doing the socially responsible thing, and the fact that this fight is happening in their backyard, Ben & Jerry’s needs to stand up, and come out and start supporting these GMO labeling laws,” she said.
But Ben & Jerry’s spokesman Elizabeth Stewart clarified that the firm already supports GMO labeling, adding that Ben & Jerry’s hasn’t spent money to support or discourage GMO labeling initiatives in the past, preferring to keep out of the financial side of the political equation.
“We believe everyone has the right to know what’s in their food,” Stewart said. Ben & Jerry’s official online statement on GMO outlines the firm’s history of fighting for the labeling of genetically engineered foods, pointing out its support for rBGH labeling, and adds that the company is committed to sourcing non-GMO ingredients for all its products by the end of 2013.
The corporate operations and decision-making of Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s are completely separate, said Stewart. An inexact but widely circulated diagram from August last year by the Cornucopia Institute nonprofit fueled misconceptions about their corporate relationship, she said, by inaccurately portraying Ben & Jerry’s as financially backing anti-GMO efforts.
State lawmakers are likely to take up GMO labeling legislation again this year, after legislative efforts last year fell short. Gov. Peter Shumlin has indicated that he supports GMO labeling in principle, but has also said that he thinks it’d be hard to successfully defend such legislation in federal courts.
According to the California Secretary of State’s website, the campaign against GMO labeling in California spent about $39.7 million from January to October 2012, mostly on advertising, including a $20.4 million blitz in October before the Nov. 6 ballot.
[DISCLOSURE: The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation financially supports VTDigger.]