The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

That Non-GMO Label is Misleading

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


The August 5, 2018, Wall Street Journal has an op-ed by Henry Miller, MD, a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, concerning organic food that is worth reading.  He is critical of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) lack of oversight of the $47-billion-a-year organic industry.  He points out that while the FDA is supposed to be going after businesses that promote dubious and untrue health claims, sometimes to the point of absurdity, it is ignoring the organic industry, which promotes “blatantly false and deceptive advertising claims.”

For example, while an organic supermarket may claim their foods are grown “without toxic or persistent pesticides,” Miller points out that organic farmers rely on synthetic and natural pesticides to grow crops, just as conventional farmers do, and that organic products can contain numerous synthetic and natural chemicals.

Accordind to Dr. Miller, copper sulfite is a pesticide widely used in organic farming and is the “most common residue found in organic food.”  The European Union tried to stop the use of copper sulfite in organic farming because over concerns it may cause cancer but, ended up not doing so because organic farmers do not have an alternative.

Miller points out how the FDA would never allow an orange juice manufacturer to put on their product’s label the emblem “fat free.”  For any manufacturer to do so, there would have to be a “standard of presence” of fat in orange juice for it to be labeled “fat-free” and, of course, there is no fat in orange juice. 

But, when it comes to companies using the term “non-GMO” (genetically modified organism), many companies appear to be using it as a marketing scheme because the products they are selling have no GMO versions.  Using the term non-GMO, even though deceptive, works because it has been shown people will buy these products over a product that has no such labeling. 

This area of labeling has not been ignored by the FDA.  The agency issued guidance in 2015 on when a non-GMO claim can be used.  Nevertheless, the FDA is not cracking down on the misleading non-GMO marketing that is running rampant.

When organic certification was being consider back in 2000, then Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Dan Glickman said, “Let me be clear about one thing: the organic label is a marketing tool.  It is not a statement about food safety, nor is ‘organic’ a value judgment about nutrition or quality.”

In an October 6, 2014 Des Moines Register OpEd, former-USDA Secretary John Block pointed out that organic foods are more likely to be recalled than conventional foods because of bacterial contamination and that consumers will rarely see any reference that organic foods are no more nutritious than foods produced by conventional agriculture.  He said, “USDA's research shows that more than 70 percent of consumers are likely to believe a food is safer, more nutritious or of higher quality if it bears the organic label.  In fact, all the label signifies is that a given food has been grown, handled and processed without many of the modern techniques of conventional agriculture.  The label does not even mean that a certain food was grown without pesticides.  Organic foods are routinely produced with certain kinds of ‘organic’ pesticides.  Meanwhile, organic recalls due to bacterial contamination are ballooning along with the expanding market for organic food.” 

Dr. Miller points out there are “non-GMO” emblems on more than 55,000 organic and non-organic products, many of which have no GMO counterpart.  He urges the FDA to restrain the organic industry, and others, from using disingenuous advertising, such as “non-GMO" to simply push their products because they are perceived to be healthier.  Not doing he said, “undermines consumers’ choice, erodes trust in the market, and rigs the game.”  We agree.

 

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