Last week, I pulled up behind a local taxi that labeled itself a “green cab.” Yet the car itself appeared to be a late-'90s Ford Taurus, produced well before electric or hybrid cars were readily available. Clearly, the cab company took an environmentally conscious bumper sticker and slapped it on an old car, hoping to fool riders into thinking the taxi wasn’t an ecological grim reaper belching death in its wake. (I guarantee every time the driver started the car, a pygmy marmoset dropped dead in a South American rainforest.)
Yet there is big money in making consumers feel ecologically pure and big money to be lost if a certain brand of customers don’t. Especially with food, consumers equate small farms with a lower carbon footprint, purer genetics and fewer pesticides. As a result, businesses flock to label their products “organic,” “farm to table,” or “locally sourced,” even if that means the food was purchased “locally” at Costco.
(I still believe “farm to table” has too many steps, so come visit my new “stream to mouth” restaurants, where people have to pluck their food out of a running brook like a bear.)
Don't buy the non-GMO scare campaign
Perhaps the most misunderstood — and most profitable — attempt to convince people their food is “healthy” is the anti-genetically modified organisms (GMO) campaign. Food companies are rushing to have their products listed as GMO-free, even though there is little evidence that genetically modified foods are any less healthy or safe.
Yet the effort to vilify GMOs has largely been successful. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center poll, 57% of Americans think genetically modified foods are unsafe to eat. Yet 88% of scientists with the American Association for the Advancement of Science said GMOs are generally safe to eat.
This disparity shows why there is such demand for food producers to have their products labeled “GMO-free,” even if the label doesn’t apply to the product. In 2016, Hunt’s bragged that its products contained no GMO tomatoes despite the fact that no GMO tomatoes were available in the market at the time. Evolution Salt branded its Himalayan salt GMO-free despite the minor detail that salt is a rock that doesn’t have genes. This would be like selling a gluten-free television.
There are others responsible:You can't save the climate by going vegan. Corporate polluters must be held accountable.
Nonetheless, when there is demand for an environmentally based service, there will be a “green economy” in which to sell it. A not-for-profit group known as the Non-GMO Project will, for a fee, certify products as GMO-free and allow companies to put their butterfly label on their goods. The group charges up to several thousands of dollars to allow food companies to call their produce “GMO-free.” In August of 2018, sales of Non-GMO Project Verified products were estimated to be at $26 billion. The group has now certified over 50,000 products.
A small contingent has deceived half the nation
According to the Hartman Group’s “Organic & Natural 2018” report (available for only $10,000), 46% of shoppers deliberately avoid GMOs when shopping. It is these efforts of a small but vocal anti-GMO contingent that has businesses shelling out big money to distance themselves from genetically modified food, which typically is just as safe and cheaper.
Of course, the winners under this situation are the leaders of the organic food industry (many of whom populate the Non-GMO Project board), who are trying to portray their competition as unsafe.
Simply having the non-GMO label on a food product can be deceptive, because it implies that the GMO option can be harmful. In many cases, as with tomatoes, there are no GMO products in the marketplace. (This deceptive labeling is like kids’ cereals proclaiming they have “essential vitamins and minerals” while leaving out the fact that your children will soon be choking each other after they ingest all the sugar in the cereal.)
It’s not as if the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have the authority to regulate such misleading advertising. In 2017, the FDA blocked a Massachusetts bakery from listing “love” as an ingredient. Perhaps had its love been certified organic, the bakery would have been allowed to continue.
Everyone wants to know that their food is fresh and safe and sustainable, and that it comes from a farm that reads its corn stalks bedtime stories before tucking them in at night. But killing the GMO industry would only force higher prices for less food that isn’t any safer.
(Editor’s note: This column is 100% gluten-free.)
Christian Schneider is a reporter with The College Fix and author of the book “1916: The Blog.” Follow him on Twitter: @Schneider_CM
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'We're GMO-free' and other meaningless things companies say