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The Columbia Journal
P.O. Box 2633 MPO,
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada V6B 3W8
Phone: 604-266-6552
Fax: 604-267-3342
ISSN 1712-3763
Web: www.columbiajournal.ca

This issue:

Public Affairs

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Columbia Journal logoVolume Ten, Number One   January 2005   www.columbiajournal.ca

    Shareholder  Action Update:

    Freeing Our Food

    Deb Abbey

    Human society has its roots in the communal experience of food, whether it’s hunting, gathering, preparing or sharing. Not much has changed on the social side. Good food, shared with friends and family or eaten alone, provides comfort, sustenance and nutrition whether it’s Sunday dinner with Grandma or fish and chips in the park. But today more and more people are asking: Is everything ok in the kitchen and on the farm?
    Renowned chef Julia Child once said, “What’s dangerous and discouraging about this era is that people really are afraid of their food.” Although Julia was referring to food fads and diet trends, in some respects it turns out that our fear of food is based on some very real events. We’ve had man-made contaminants showing up in farmed salmon and genetically modified corn destined for animal feed showing up in corn chips.

    So maybe it isn’t the food that we should fear, but the food production industry. Through our Social Leaders Fund we’ve invested in the best organic food companies. Now it’s time to address the impact of food production and genetic engineering, on society and on the bottom line. This fall we’ll be filing shareholder resolutions asking the food companies in our portfolios to address the impact of food production and genetic engineering on long term-shareholder value.

    In 1962 Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring and alerted a whole generation to the hazards of pesticides. This eventually led to the banning of DDT. The biotech industry has subsequently moved on to genetically engineered (GE) seeds that produce pesticide and insect resistance in plants. A form of GE corn, StarLink, was licensed to be grown for animal feed but wasn’t approved for human consumption due to health concerns. Yet it still ended up in corn chips and other food products, resulting in recalls across Canada and the US. This fiasco cost the food industry over a billion US dollars and drove down corn prices across the board. The company that made the corn variety recently agreed to pay $112 million to farmers who had never even used their product.

    In Europe, manufacturers are required to specify whether a product is made from GE ingredients. Given the choice, most consumers will choose GE-free products. That has motivated companies representing over US$450 billion in retail sales to remove GE ingredients from their products in Europe and elsewhere. US and Canadian manufacturers, growers and exporters who want to be part of the EU market will also need to be compliant with the labeling requirements or erode their market share. Make no mistake GE products are causing concern and anxiety among consumers and investors. They’re right to be concerned. And, considering the economic value of the food industry, as investors, we should be just as concerned.
    Deb Abbey is the director of Real Assets, a socially responsible investment agency sponsored by Vancity Credit Union and the labour movement. This article first appeared in Realassets Realchange Fall 2004 edition.

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