The Global War on GMOs: Continued Rise of the Social Machine

Candida McCollam Owner/Partner, Localspeak

Posted on October 7th 2013

The Global War on GMOs: Continued Rise of the Social Machine

As we initially reported in this post on our Globalspeak social listening blog, the global war on GMOs continues to heat up in 2013.

In April the U.S. Congress passed the “Monsanto Protection Act” (H.R. 933) and the global March Against Monsanto was held in May. The Italian Ministry imposed a nationwide ban on GMOs in July and in France, despite the publishing of findings of a recent French study that confirmed the insidious human health risks of GMOs, a High Court reversed that nation’s ban on Monsanto’s right to cultivate GMO corn.  

While the listening of national governments to their citizens is suspect—and knowing full well that the Monsanto “stealth works” could care less about transparency—a singular voice has resonated across the globe.  And it is one calling for mandatory GMO labeling.  Positioned as a consumer-friendly initiative in August, a case in point: U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Mark Udall called on the FDA to “finalize” its 2001 “GMO labeling.”  If passed, this initiative would usurp all U.S. State rights to legislate mandatory GMO labeling.  As the 2001 FDA guidelines clearly allow for industry discretion and “voluntary” GMO labeling, the question remains why Senator Warren, having built her reputation as a staunch consumer advocate, omitted the word “voluntary” in the co-signed letter to the FDA.

To discover whether the GMO labeling issue potentially plays out as an electoral one, we look to a social listening and sentiment analysis platform like NetBase to gauge the emotional quotient of GMOs in the food chain. 


Previously an issue only for brand reputation management, GMOs now have become a political issue, too.  According to a New York Times poll earlier this year, 93 percent of Americans are in favor of GMO labeling. Despite overwhelming U.S. public sentiment to legislate mandatory GMO labeling, individual state battles have been met with big industry resistance from agribusiness including deep-pocketed Monsanto, Bayer, Dow Chemical and DuPont.

Next month, voters in Washington State will decide Initiative 522 (#yeson522), which mandates GMO labeling.  Having raised $4 million from more than 9,000 donors at the grassroots level, Yes On 522 predictably has been outspent by No On 522, which raised $12 million from just six donors (two of whom contributed only $350 each).  Oregon and Vermont have joined Washington State on the front lines of consumer protection, although a similar ballot initiative was defeated last year in California.

The big message regarding GMOs is one consumers are sending to “Big Food,” with many brands showing up on the same GMO radar in our NetBase analysis:  Nestle, Coke, Pepsi, General Mills and Kellogg’s AND such retailers as Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and restaurant chains including Chipotle Mexican Grill, KFC, McDonald’s, Starbucks.  


Consumers want Big Food brands to hear their demands for food safety, and they are delivering a resounding social media message:

GMOs cause cancer, organ damage, digestive disorder, infertility, and permanent damage to the central nervous system. GMOs also affect reproductive health, endanger children, elevate autism risk, and contaminate the environment. 

And the list goes on.

Be sure to check out the recent, albeit secret French scientific study.



Not since Rachel Carson, arguably the mother of today’s environmental protection movement, wrote A Silent Spring, heroically confronting the chemical industry’s pesticide contamination in the 1950s, have we seen such a groundswell of public sentiment. Even in the absence of the democratized media we consumers enjoy today, Carson’s words helped launch a global movement.  Today, we have far greater means to impact change. Consumers, Big Food and politicians now sit at the same “social listening” table. Imagine. 


Candida McCollam

Owner/Partner, Localspeak

Global social media analyst, research strategist and localization expert. Delivers global social media brand audits, analytics, brand innovation, media tracking. NetBase partner, leverages award-winning NLP platform Insight Composer to deliver global brand insights and analytics in 40 languages. Yogini, linguaphile, passionate about global cultural research, social brand innovation, competitive positioning, social analytics.

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