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Nestle lost in a Brazilian legal battle this week over their Genetically Modified food products, and they will now be forced to label anything with over one percent Genetically Modified ingredients as containing said ingredients.

Nestlé’s battle and following loss at trial created a dialogue all over social media, and has created an even larger debate as to whether GMOs should be labeled to protect consumers, as genetically modified foods have been linked to health problems in some studies.

Do we have a right to know what’s in our food?

Brazil isn’t the first country to take action against GMOs. Poland banned GMO corn and Peru has passed a 10 year ban on GMOs in general. In California the November presidential ballot will include Prop. 37 – a measure to require labeling on all GMO foods sold within the state.

Additionally, many consumers have used social media outlets to spread the word about which brands sell Genetically Modified food products, since the brands have not been forthcoming with that information. The Label It Yourself initiative started to encourage consumers to print off or create their own GMO warnings with which to label food products at their local markets, themselves.

The court ruling in Brazil and the Label It Yourself campaign have contributed to a lot of negative publicity for Nestlé over the past week, and with the vote for Prop 37 in California coming up, if Nestle Corp. doesn’t monitor and address their social media situation, they could see boycotts, even more negative publicity and massive profit losses.

There are a number of valuable lessons to be learned from Nestlé’s situation that even small businesses can apply to the way their run their companies.

First of all, be honest and transparent. If your product contains genetically modified foods, be open about it. Always be honest so you don’t have to clean up a mess later. A lot of consumers won’t care, but your honesty will be appreciated. When you spend millions of dollars to keep information about your ingredients from consumers, the fact that you’re actively hiding something makes for bad press, poor brand image and PR problems.

Secondly, when there’s a social media discussion involving your brand, engage. Nestle has failed to participate in the dialogue surrounding their trial and the GMO debate that has resulted, and by not participating they come across as actively concealing information. Instead of silence, Nestle could be posting studies that attempted to show the safety of GMOs and defending their products in every way they can. Silence is almost never the appropriate action to take in response to discussion about your brand.

Lesson number three: If you fail to be transparent, legislation could be enacted to force you to be transparent. If consumer outcry is demanding something, oblige before a trial becomes necessary. Listen to the public by using social media monitoring like Alerti’s – stay informed on what is being said about your brand. Not only is it much better for consumer relations, but, it saves your company the huge cost of going through a trial.

Nestlé’s legal and PR problems as of late provide an excellent example in the importance of both transparency and engagement, lest the situation escalate. While a massive corporation like Nestle can recover from this type of negative publicity, a smaller company like yours may not be able to recuperate if such a PR crisis occurs.


Nestlé’s GMO trial
Honesty and Transparency in Business