Using fear to sell food isn’t right and it may hurt you more than your customers in the long run
Dear food industry,
We have been working together for years – decades actually – and I have not felt the need to write to you until now. Even though our relationship hasn’t always been easy, I think we both realize we get the best results when we work together. That has generally meant I educate the public about food and nutrition for good health and you provide food choices to meet their needs. Deliberately misleading consumers was never part of the arrangement. So my question is this: Why are you using non-GMO claims as a marketing ploy?
We both know that GMO, or genetically modified organism for those who don’t, refers to crops developed through genetic engineering. Farmers think of it as another form of plant breeding, and that’s what I tell consumers it is. I also tell them it helps farmers get the best yields on the smallest amount of land using the fewest inputs (fertilizer, weed and pest control, water, etc.) so they can grow enough food to feed us all. And since we’re relying on just 2% of the entire U.S. population to grow all of our food, it makes sense to let those hard working farmers use all of the tools in their tool shed.
We both also know genetic engineering is a safe, thoroughly tested technology that has been used in food crops for over 20 years, but did you know it was used to make drugs before it was used for food? Genetically modified bacteria first produced insulin in 1976 and has been saving lives ever since. The first genetically modified foods didn’t come on the market in the U.S. until 1995.
What I can’t understand is why you would want to make GMOs look like something that should be avoided when you proudly sell so many other wholesome foods that are made with GMO crops? It sends a mixed message to consumers when they see foods with GMO-free claims on their grocery store shelves right next to other foods without those claims. Even worse is when you pay to put a Non-GMO Project Verified seal on foods that couldn’t contain GMOs in the first place since they aren’t made with any of the eight GMO plants that humans eat (apples, canola, corn, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, squash and sugar beets). That means putting GMO-free claims on foods like canned tomatoes, wheat pasta, and olive oil is simply deceptive since all tomatoes, wheat and olive oil are GMO-free. And putting the claim on products that don’t even have genetic material, like salt and water, is absurd.
I hope you can see how this makes my job more difficult.
Fortunately, it looks like the Food and Drug Administration is going to take a closer look at the misuse of these claims. If they take action that will stop you from falsely suggesting that products with a GMO-free claim are safer, more nutritious, or are otherwise better than comparable products without the claim, and it will certainly ease my burden. Plus it will save consumers all the money they now pay for the inflated prices you charge for these products.
There is one more reason why you may want to rethink your misuse of these claims. Food manufacturers might actually need GMO crops one day to continue making some of their bestselling brands. Isn’t it short-sighted to sabotage that possibility? I’m sure you’re familiar with the crisis Florida orange growers are facing due to a widespread bacterial disease that causes Citrus Greening. The use of biotechnology could save the orange juice industry, but that will present a problem for the companies with non-GMO claims all over their OJ (even though GMO oranges do not exist). If the only option available for them to stay in business is to use disease-resistant oranges made from genetically modified trees, they will have to drop the non-GMO claims on their juice. I can only imagine how confused their loyal customers will be when that happens.
Now that I’ve brought this issue to your attention I hope you will make amends so we can resume the cooperative working relationship we’ve had for so long. We certainly wouldn’t want to have to modify that.