Internet campaign against Kellogg's
Saying no to Fruit Loops: Flint-area people join Internet campaign against Kellogg's and biotech crops
by Elizabeth Shaw
The Flint Journal, July 18 2008
FLINT, Michigan -- The grandkids won't munch Froot Loops anymore when they come to visit Mark Fisher and Kathleen Kirby.
"They'll be getting organic oatmeal here," said Kirby, a retired English teacher from the Flint School District.
The Flint couple are among those calling for a national consumer boycott against Battle Creek-based Kellogg Co., the world's leading cereal maker, in an effort to block the use of genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets in products ranging from candy and breakfast cereal to bread.
The Internet-based boycott is spreading mostly through Web sites dedicated to organic foods and natural health.
"Kellogg isn't the only one. It's just the one we're going after," said Kirby. "If we can't stop this, there's going to be a domino effect. Pretty soon all processed foods will have genetically altered sugar and we won't be able to tell because it isn't on the label."
Other local people are involved besides Kirby and Fisher.
"If you just boycott Froot Loops without explaining why, you may have a mutiny on your hands. But kids actually change faster than adults," said fellow boycotter Brenda McCumons of Lapeer, a registered nurse.
"Once they hear the 'why' and find out the foods good for them actually taste good, they don't have trouble giving up the junk."
Industry officials discount the alarm bells sounded by the health activists and say critics overlook the advantages of GE crops.
About half of Michigan's sugar beet crop planted this spring is the new "Roundup Ready" genetically engineered variety, said Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.
"It took a lot of work all the way through the system to make sure this was no surprise. And it's not as if it's a new technology," said Byrum.
"We hear some fringe groups expressing concern ... but we're not hearing a general outcry from the general populace at all."
No one has found evidence that biotech foods currently on supermarket shelves present a danger to human health. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration admits there are concerns, such as the potential for introducing new allergens into foods.
"When you begin to mess with genes, we don't know what's going to happen in the long run," said Fisher, a retired science teacher.
"Nature will allow us to cross-pollinate one kind of corn with another. But when you cross a couple genes out of a fish into a carrot, Ii don't know where that's going to end up. I don't mind if they run the experiment -- I Jjust don't want to be part of it."
The new "Roundup Ready" sugar beets are genetically altered to withstand a popular Monsanto herbicide, following on the heels of Roundup Ready corn, soy and cotton.
This year, 72 percent of Michigan's corn and 84 percent of soybeans are biotechnology varieties, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Michigan ranks four4th in the U.S. for sugar beet production, producing nearly 3.5 million tons in 2007, according to the USDA.
Kellogg doesn't currently use sugar from genetically engineered sugar beets; the seeds were approved for planting for the first time this spring by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But Kellogg spokeswoman Kris Charles said the company likely will use it once it enters the nation's sugar supply.
"Biotechnology is not unique to Kellogg or other food manufacturers in the United States, with biotechnology-produced grains having been grown in the U.S. for the past decade," said Charles.
"We use grain from a number of suppliers in our country, so our supply would likely include (GE) grain in the same proportion that it occurs in the United States supply. Our position on use of GE sugar ... is the same."
Byrum said GE critics are missing the target for their concerns.
"Without these advanced technologies the cost of production would be substantially higher. Plus, there are millions of tons of additional pesticides and herbicides we don't use today because of them," said Byrum.
"Even the pope and the G8 Summit have endorsed biotech to help alleviate the scarcity of the food supply around the world."
Kellogg products sold in Europe are free of biotech ingredients while U.S. products only comply with U.S. regulations -- which don't require labeling or restriction of gene-altered foods.
"In the U.S., most consumers are not concerned about biotechnology, and we receive very few contacts on the subject," said Charles.
"We decide whether or not to use biotech ingredients on a market-by-market basis, depending on national regulations, labeling requirements, consumer preferences and production/distribution."
Fisher agrees organic foodies such as he and his wife are in the minority of Kellogg customers.
"I'm sure we're not gonna hurt 'em at all. Their bottom line won't change because of what we don't buy," he said, jokingly.
But that could change, said Lapeer's McCumons.
"I think one person can make a huge difference in any effort they're committed to. That to me is the essence by which many people have changed the world," she said.
"If we don't make a stand in our grocery stores ... they're not going to do it.
"One voice with another voice can create a choir that will be heard."