Not many people like to think of themselves as bullies, but when groups of individuals gang together to hurl insults and try to force their own demands on others, it’s an apt description. This behavior is made even easier by social media; and just because the target is a company, not one specific person, doesn’t mean it’s not bullying.
A few weeks ago, a coordinated attack from Green America, Organic Consumers Association, Friends of the Earth, Food Democracy Now and other anti-GMO groups swarmed social media demanding that Starbucks switch to organic milk. As outlined in the Delta Farm Press, these groups attempted to “bully a company into falling in line with an anti-GMO group’s absurd demands” but luckily, the attack “failed to percolate”.
Looking back, it may seem obvious that this attack was doomed to fail due to the sheer irrationality of it – consumers can already choose organic milk at Starbucks if they want, not to mention get their coffee essentially anywhere else (aren’t there more important causes to fight for/against??). Yet, it was still very encouraging to see Starbucks hold strong, and it was also great to see many co-opt the #organicmilknext hashtag to stand up against the vocal minority of protesters.
And, while this particular protest is already in the rearview mirror due to its ineffectiveness, others have had more lasting impacts. In perhaps the largest social media attack from anti-GMO groups yet, last year General Mills was slammed by keyboard warriors demanding they remove all biotech ingredients from Cheerios®.
Despite clearly stating their support for the safety and benefits of biotech crops, General Mills relented since only a small fraction of Cheerios’ ingredients are biotech. Yet, despite trying to placate the bullies, General Mills saw no sales boost whatsoever from the switch. The switch also “required significant investment” and, worse still, resulted in a loss of nutrients, including vitamins B12, D, A and Riboflavin.
Amidst backlash to Cheerios’ non-GMO switch, groups like Friends of the Earth have also been called out by media outlets like Food Navigator for misleading consumers in their frivolous retailer-aimed anti-GMO initiatives in recent months.
So, what have we learned? There is no pay-off to caving to demands from anti-GMO bullies, especially when those demands have no basis in science. And, the more individuals and media outlets support the evidence and companies’ decisions to make rational decisions based on evidence, the less effective this bullying behavior will be, and hopefully, the less we’ll see of it!