Co-op corrals investors for GMO crops corporate engagement campaign

Fund manager looks to interest South American and Asian investors in project.

The UK-based Co-operative Asset Management (TCAM) is corralling a group of investors including Investec Asset Management, with others likely to join soon, to challenge companies involved in GMO crops (genetically modified organisms) over potentially controversial environmental and human health concerns. In its third Annual Responsible Investment Review, TCAM said the issue of GMO crops had faded in recent years from the public eye. The crops were in the past dubbed Frankenstein food by campaigners. However, the fund manager noted that recent controversy around the test planting of GMO seeds in the UK had resurrected the arguments and potential for reputational risk in investee companies. TCAM said the collaborative engagement – where investors group together for impact – was looking notably to partner with South American and Asian investors because of the proliferation of GMO crops in these regions. Investor knowledge on GMO it said was low because of the complexity of the subject. However, it pointed out that the alleged environmental damage through the uncontrolled agricultural release of GMOs and possible human health consequences from GMO in the food chain were highly controversial with consumers. The investors said the first stage of their action would be to produce a thorough, expert-vetted position paper on the potential environmental and social strengths and vulnerabilities of GM crops. It said this would includeadjunct issues of intellectual property rights and the impact of GMO on existing social structures such as agricultural communities. The aim of the work, it said, is to create a benchmark for investors globally to compare companies and country regulators on sustainable and environmentally sound GMO policies and to lobby them accordingly where necessary.
TCAM said the investor group remained ethically neutral on GMO, noting that their introduction could often depend on the needs of different countries in terms of food provision, technological and regulatory discipline, and social suitability.
However, it said it was starting its work with agreed objectives including that GMO companies produce genuinely useful products for society and the environment, which are apt for local needs where marketed, and which deliver benefits safely to those most in need following appropriate risk and benefit assessments. The TCAM annual report outlines its progress on the integration of ESG issues into its mainstream investment research. The UK’s Co-operative group is in the latter stages of plans to sell TCAM to financial conglomerate Royal London Group, with a deal expected by the year end.
Link to report