November 17, 2014 / 10:49 PM / in 3 years

Starbucks says wrongly accused of fighting Vermont GMO labeling law

(Reuters) - Starbucks Corp said on Monday it has been wrongly accused in online petitions of supporting a Grocery Manufacturers Association lawsuit to block Vermont’s GMO labeling law.

Customers walk out of a Starbucks coffee store in Shanghai July 28, 2014.REUTERS/ Carlos Barria

Petitions posted to websites such as Sumofus.org and Care2.com accused Starbucks of teaming with fellow GMA member Monsanto Co to kill GMO labeling in Vermont, which in May became the first U.S. state to pass a mandatory GMO labeling law that did not require another state to go first.

“Starbucks is not part of any litigation pertaining to GMO labeling. ... We don’t support the lawsuit,” Starbucks said in a statement.

“Neither Starbucks nor Monsanto is participating in our lawsuit to overturn Vermont’s GMO labeling law,” GMA spokesman Brian Kennedy said in an email to Reuters.

Internal GMA documents filed last year as part of a lawsuit in Washington State revealed members contribute to a “Defense of Brands Strategic Account” designed “to help the industry fund programs to address the threats from motivated and well financed activists” and to “shield individual companies from criticism for funding of specific efforts.”

Kennedy, the GMA spokesman, did not respond to questions related to that account.

Petition backers on Monday were more than halfway to their goal of collecting some 500,000 online signatures. Supporters include singer-songwriter Neil Young, who vowed on his website to boycott Starbucks over the GMO issue.

The petitions also call on Starbucks to cut ties with GMA and to switch to GMO-free organic milk.

Starbucks said its continued membership in the GMA gives it a voice in industry debates. The chain also said limited supplies prevent it from changing to organic milk.

The GMA, along with members such as Monsanto, PepsiCo Inc and Kellogg Co, has spent millions of dollars to defeat GMO-labeling ballot measures in Oregon, Colorado, Washington and California.

While proponents and critics debate the safety, environmental impacts and effectiveness of genetically engineered crops, some major companies are shunning GMOs.

Popular burrito seller Chipotle Mexican Grill has cut virtually all GMOs from its food supply. Fast-food giant McDonald’s Corp said it would not use newly approved GM potatoes from long-time supplier J.R. Simplot to make its famous fries or other food.

Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Richard Chang

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