Will Food Labeling of GMOs Impact These Companies?

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The movement surrounding the labeling of food products containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, is gaining momentum. Groups that support the labeling of products are holding rallies across the country to give voice to this issue. They also scored a recent victory in the state of Vermont, where a bill that requires labeling of genetically modified products passed in the house.

A U.S. congressional bill has also been introduced on the issue and biotech companies, such as Monsanto (NYSE: MON), The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE: DOW), and DuPont (NYSE: DD) are initiating a campaign to bring information to consumers of the benefits brought by the use of GMOs in food products. According to Reuters, the industry spent about $40 million to defeat a labeling measure put forth in California and won by a narrow margin.

Consumer confusion

Biotech firms believe that mandatory labeling will cause confusion and deter consumers from purchasing genetically modified foods. The industry is already experiencing some delays in product approval amid concerns by regulators on consumer response. As more people demand to know what's in the food they're eating, biotech firms are battling to defeat mandatory labeling measures that may negatively impact product sales.

The industry and GMO earnings

On Monsanto's website, the company explains its view of the labeling controversy and its opposition to labeling GMO foods that do not pose a risk to the consumer. Monsanto argues that since the mid-90's, genetically modified crops have been grown and food products have been created from these crops and consumed without harm.

Labeling of food attributes, the company argues, should be the decision of food companies as long as its "truthful and not mis-leading." It agrees with the FDA's current position that labeling should take place when the GMO product has a "meaningful difference" when compared to a conventional product. If mandatory labeling is approved, Monsanto's seed and genomic segment sales, which totaled $4.3 billion in the second quarter of 2013, could be affected. In Q2, this segment's sales made up 78% of total net sales of $5.5 billion. The company expects strong performance from its corn business and this segment to continue with record volumes for the remainder of 2013.

Dow Chemical does not directly address the GMO labeling issue on its website. The company's agricultural sciences business made $6.4 billion in 2012, roughly 11% of total sales of $56.8 million. Of the $6.4 billion in agricultural sales, 21% comes from "seed, traits, and oils." In Q1 2013, agricultural science sales rose 14% and surpassed the $2 billion mark during the quarter. Executive VP and CFO William H. Weideman expects strong sales to continue into Q2 2013.

DuPont's 2012 annual segment sales totaled $34 billion and agriculture sales were $10.4 billion, 31% of total segment sales. Agriculture sales was also the segment with the highest sales of DuPont's nine business segments. This segment also grew 14% on 8% higher volume and 6% higher prices, specifically in corn and soybeans. In Q4 2012, sales rose 18% to $1.5 billion. The company did not address GMO labeling in its earnings report but has contributed funds to fight against mandatory labeling.

Proponents of labeling GMO foods

Various groups and organic food companies that favor mandatory labeling are regarded as being anti-science or against the biotechnology industry. Mentioned in a recent Forbes article, the health impact of consuming GMO foods is relatively unknown since adequate studies are yet to be conducted.

On its website, Monsanto mentions the use of animal studies, but provides no references to study protocols or results. There is also the environmental impact -- GMO seeds tolerate higher levels of pesticides, which leads to a loss in biodiversity and creates "super weeds" that gain resistance to current pesticides in use. 

According to a report on Earthopensource, a few 90-day animal feeding studies have been conducted on GMO foods, yet results could not arrive at a conclusion that deemed these foods as safe. The report goes on to say:

"...there is astonishingly little data of the type that could be used as credible evidence regarding the safety or harmfulness of GM foods. Such evidence would normally consist of long-term animal feeding studies comparing one group of animals fed a diet containing one or more GM ingredients with a control group fed a diet containing the same ingredients in non-GM form. Instead, the studies examine such topics as risk assessment of GM foods, methods of testing for the presence and quantity of GMOs in food and feed, and consumer attitudes to GM foods."

The argument follows that by labeling GMO foods, individual consumers can more easily decide whether they consider this type of food safe for consumption.

Conclusion

If mandatory labeling passes on GMO foods, sales of genetically modified products may be affected. A larger number of consumers are showing greater interest in the way food is produced and how natural products are manipulated to improve crop yield. Natural foods retailer Whole Foods has already ruled in favor of labeling and could set a trend that other grocers may follow. If this movement continues, these companies' revenues and share prices may take a hit.

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