A couple weeks ago I woke up, turned on my computer, and started seeing anti-GMO groups celebrating (which is never a good thing). They were claiming that Hershey’s – the company that makes those delicious chocolate bars and candy kisses – had decided to remove all GMO ingredients from it’s products. Sickened by seeing another company fall to the anti-science rhetoric, I jumped over to the company’s website and found a press release about some changes the company was planning on making.
In the press release, Hershey’s didn’t mention GMOs at all. Rather, the company claims it wants to move toward “simpler” ingredients that consumers can understand. It has adopted 3 principals it thinks will appease consumers that are interested in food. Those principals include: Simpler Ingredients, Sharing What’s Inside, and Thoughtful and Responsible Sourcing of Ingredients. According to Confectionary News, Hershey will now purchase only non-GMO sugar.
Now, for context, I knew that the candy world had been seeing some movement lately. Nestle recently announced it was going to give up some artificial flavors and colors in its candies. As far as I know (even now) Nestle did not agree to remove any genetically engineered crops from its ingredients. This gave me some hope that Hershey’s was only paying lip service to the anti-GMO activists and maybe they weren’t going to totally cave. Instead of speculating, I decided to reach out to Hershey’s and ask them if this was true.
I was really disappointed in the answer. (You can read the answer below in full – no editing!)
Thank you for writing to share your concerns about our announcement that we are beginning a transition to simple and easy-to-understand ingredients and greater transparency about what is in our products.
We are a consumer-centric company. Our dedication to great-tasting products includes listening to consumers and understanding their needs. We work to respond to consumers’ interests and expectations. Non-GM ingredients is something our consumers are telling us is important to them.
We also know that the FDA, regulatory authorities and the international scientific community have all concluded that genetically modified ingredients are safe for consumption. Scientific consensus on safety is very important when we look at our ingredients, but we also listen to our consumers, which is why we are working through this transition to make our ingredients simpler.
Just like consumers, farmers also have preferences and have to make choices. As we continue on this journey we will work closely with our supply chain partners to work collaboratively toward meeting these consumer preferences.
In 2015, you can expect new products in our snacking portfolio that include non-genetically modified ingredients such as a new U.S. snacking product called Brookside Dark Chocolate Fruit & Nut Bars. We will also transition of Hershey’s Kisses Milk Chocolates and Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar to simpler ingredients that are not genetically modified. However, our commitment to simple ingredients is a holistic approach across all of our ingredients and not a specific ingredient. This will be a phased, multi-year effort. Making these changes are complex and will be prioritized over a number of years to source ingredients, develop new formulas, and ensure the great taste and quality consumers expect from our products.
We are committed, however, to providing regular updates as we continue this journey.
We appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. We value feedback and we will share your comments with leaders in the company.
I’m sorry, Jihan, but you’re completely wrong.
It is not your consumers that are telling you they want you to remove genetically engineered crops from your ingredient list. Your company was the focus of a highly organized, persistent, and well-funded campaign from anti-GMO groups. As reported at CNBC:
In response to tens of thousands of Facebook posts, emails, and telephone calls from consumers who took part in GMO Inside’s campaign calling on Hershey’s to move to non-GMO ingredients, the U.S. chocolate giant released a statement last week that it “will feature a lineup of simple ingredients, and transition some of its most popular chocolate brands, including Hershey’s Kisses Milk Chocolates and Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars to simpler ingredients.”
Oh, look, here is GMO Inside’s article calling for readers to put pressure on Hershey’s! Either Hershey’s doesn’t realize they were being targeted, or they thought they could take me for a fool. Both options are disappointing and wrong.
One by one the companies get bombarded with the anti-GMO smear tactics and one by one they all cave into the same promise to remove the offending ingredients. But we’ve also seen that just because a company caves doesn’t mean that activists – Food Babe, as an example – are going to suddenly tell their followers that they should go ahead and support the company. Instead, the activists crying for change just make more demands and want more things banned. (I can’t wait for them to start insisting that Hershey’s uses all organic ingredients…)
What we do know is that the general public probably isn’t concerned about GMOs, at least that’s the conclusion we can come to following several labeling campaigns. GMO labeling campaigns in California and Oregon both failed in the last few years. Even in parts of the country where pockets of voters seem concerned about this issue, ballot initiatives for labeling failed. Ironically, a recent study of consumers showed that 80% support labeling of foods that contain DNA (yeah, think about that one for a second).
Sorry Hershey’s, but it obviously wasn’t your consumers that were requesting you remove genetically engineered ingredients.
Besides, how dense can you be? Candy isn’t healthy. Sure, it’s fine in moderation, but do you really think people were afraid to buy your product because the ingredients contained GMOs and were (supposedly) bad for them?! I still believe most Americans have not fallen for the anti-GMO rhetoric. Their concern is mainly about feeding their family food that is safe and healthy, not about a political agenda. Candy doesn’t seem to be the type of food we associate with “healthy.”
But there is a bigger point floating around here. I’d like to go back to those 3 principals that Hershey’s suddenly wants to promote, specifically the one about thoughtfully and responsibly sourcing ingredients. According to Hershey’s that means:
We will continue to work with our suppliers to responsibly source sustainable ingredients, building on our progress against commitments to source 100 percent certified and sustainable cocoa and certified sustainable and traceable palm oil.
If Hershey’s really wanted to find ways to source more “sustainable” ingredients that are better for the environment, then it would have told these activists that it was keeping the genetically modified ingredients!
Not only are GMOs safe, they’re also better for our environment. Use of genetically modified crops has lowered our inputs and increased our yields. We use less overall herbicide than we did before. We’re now getting more food out of less acres. With a population about to hit 9 billion in less than 50 years from now, we’re going to need all the tools we can get to increase those yields on less resources. The fear campaigns against biotechnology threaten our ability to do that – and so do companies that buy into it.
But that’s probably too much common sense and science for Hershey’s to swallow – don’t want to look at facts or anything like that!
I won’t tell people to boycott Hershey’s (please, sometimes chocolate is necessary for survival, I know), but I know the next time I go to grab a candy bar at the checkout aisle, my hand probably won’t go for one of their products.