This week, food-production giant Nestlé lost a legal battle in Brazilian court over its use of genetically modified organism (read: genetically modified food) ingredients. The Swiss brand fought to keep the fact that many of its ingredients are GMOs off the labels, but the court mandated that it label anything with more than 1% GMO ingredients sold within Brazil as such.
The lawsuit came as a result of public outcry regarding the safety of GMOs. Many studies have been published linking consumption of GMOs to serious health repercussions. While Nestlé’s studies show different results, the brand spent a lot of time, money and effort in Brazil fighting to keep from being required to mention on labels that its products contain GMOs.
The Brazilian lawsuit sparked further dialogue about the safety of GMO food and the transparency of companies that sell it. Facebook and Twitter have erupted in conversation about Nestlé and GMOs, including countless negative mentions of the brand. While the U.S. has yet to take federal action regarding GMOs, California added a measure to require the labeling of GMO products sold within the state — Proposition 37 — to the November ballot, which could mean more public relations trouble for Nestlé.
Additionally, concerned citizens established an initiative called Label It Yourself to independently label products that contain GMOs. The campaign asks consumers to print warning labels and apply them at their local supermarket, because companies in the U.S. are not required to let consumers know whether their products contain GMOs. The recent turmoil surrounding the safety and transparency of GMO food has been a costly problem for Nestlé, and as awareness in the U.S. increases, Nestlé’s situation appears to be growing more serious, as the conversation moves to social networks, with a majority of the conversation trending negative.
There are lessons you and your business can learn from Nestlé’s troubles to ensure that a similar situation never happens to you. First of all, honesty is key. Whether that means honesty in terms of ingredients, honesty in terms of business practices — anything — honesty is absolutely non-negotiable, on social networks and elsewhere. If something needs to be hidden to keep your brand image up — change it. Eventually, the truth will come out, and you’ll have a crisis, and maybe even a lawsuit on your hands.