Category Archives: non-GMO

Is the FDA Lying?

I think this is something that needs more visibility.
WSJ 8/6/2018

In the mold of “Mad Men’s” Don Draper, clever ad execs know a thing or two about manipulating consumer ignorance, confusion and even fear to sell a product.

Nowhere is this truer than modern food advertising, where dubious health claims and questionable scientific assertions abound. The Food and Drug Administration is supposed to police such deceptive practices, as it sometimes does with ridiculous zeal: Witness the FDA’s warning letter sent to a Massachusetts bakery for including “love” in its ingredient list.

But when it comes to the $47-billion-a-year organic industry, the FDA gives a complete pass to blatantly false and deceptive advertising claims. Consider the Whole Foods website, which explicitly claims that organic foods are grown “without toxic or persistent pesticides.” In fact, organic farmers rely on synthetic and natural pesticides to grow their crops, just as conventional farmers do, and organic products can contain numerous synthetic as well as natural chemicals. As observed by UC Berkeley biochemist Bruce Ames and his colleagues in 1990, “99.99% (by weight) of the pesticides in the American diet are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves.”

Pesticides are by definition toxic, and many organic pesticides pose significant environmental and human health risks. One is copper sulfate, a widely used broad-spectrum organic pesticide that persists in soil and is the most common residue found in organic food. The European Union determined that copper sulfate may cause cancer and intended to ban it, but backed off because organic farmers don’t have any viable alternative.

In addition to blatant untruths, food marketers are masters at subtly misleading consumers. A favored technique is the “absence claim”— asserting a meaningless distinction between products in order to make theirs seem superior. Generally, the FDA comes down hard on such behavior. They would never allow an orange-juice producer to label its product “fat free,” for example. To claim an absence of a certain ingredient, there has to be a “standard of presence” in that product to begin with, and there is no fat in orange juice.

But Tropicana gets away with labeling its orange juice “Non-GMO Project

Verified,” and Hunt’s labels its canned crushed tomatoes “non-GMO,” even though there are no GMO (genetically modified organism) oranges or tomatoes on the market. In fact, absence claims about GMOs are never enforced: I was unable to find a single FDA warning letter or other enforcement action against deceptive “non-GMO” labeling.

The “Non-GMO Project” butterfly label emblazons more than 55,000 organic and nonorganic products on supermarket shelves today—many of which have no GMO counterpart or couldn’t possibly contain GMOs. The clear purpose of these labels, as one peer-reviewed academic study found, is to “stigmatize food produced with conventional processes even when there is no scientific evidence that they cause harm, or even that it is compositionally any different.” The labels and anti-genetic engineering propaganda are effective. Another recent study found nearly half of consumers avoid GMO-labeled foods. The FDA’s inaction is all the more surprising inasmuch as it has published explicit guidance on this issue: “Another example of a statement in food labeling that may be false or misleading could be the statement ‘None of the ingredients in this food is genetically engineered’ on a food where some of the ingredients are incapable of being produced through genetic engineering (e.g., salt).”

The FDA guidance goes even further. GMO absence claims can also be “false and misleading” if they imply that a certain food “is safer, more nutritious, or otherwise has different attributes than other comparable foods because the food was not genetically engineered.” But this is exactly what Non-GMO Project butterfly labels are all about. Its website describes certain foods as being at “high risk” of “GMO contamination.”

Giving the organic industry and others a pass to engage in such active deception undermines consumers’ choice, erodes trust in the market, and rigs the game. Consumers need aggressive FDA action to curb these abuses and level the playing field.

Dr. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He was founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology.


A Chipotle Education

When Chipotle went non-GMO, I stopped ‘going Chipotle’. Non-GMO is ‘anti-reality’. GMO is about making life better for more human beings.
“The all-natural evangelists get an E. coli reality check.”
Dec. 22, 2015 7:07 p.m. WSJ

The executives at Chipotle Mexican Grill have been, well, dining out for years on their self-styled reputation for “food with integrity.” So their competitors who by implication lack integrity can be forgiven if they indulge in a little Schadenfreude about the company’s recent trouble with food-borne disease.

On Monday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is investigating another E. coli outbreak linked to the restaurant chain. Since July the burrito seller has been connected to five outbreaks spanning several states. At least 50 customers have munched on something laced with E. coli, and more than 120 in Boston came down with the gastrointestinal norovirus.

The company has closed and scrubbed scores of restaurants but says it still has no idea what’s poisoning people, and here’s a possible reason: About 10% of Chipotle’s produce—the most common disease culprit—is grown locally. Chipotle calls this local-sourcing part of its commitment to “the very best ingredients,” but working with so many suppliers makes it difficult to catch the offending tomato.

Founder Steve Ells vowed on a global groveling tour that Chipotle will ramp up safety measures at the company’s nearly 2,000 locations. The company will likely rely less on local suppliers, many of whom can’t comply with sophisticated testing. The company will also chop, prepare and hermetically seal ingredients such as cilantro and lettuce in a central kitchen before shipping it to local restaurants.

In other words, Mr. Ells promises to bring his restaurants into the 20th century. One reason large chains dice foodstuffs in a central kitchen is to avoid contamination. And while Chipotle derides “factory farming”—last year the company put out a comedy series about the “utterly unsustainable world of industrial agriculture”—such economies of scale exist to deliver safer food at a lower price. [And if there is a downside to this proposition let’s have a discussion.]

As it happens, Chipotle’s locavore movement is a result of the wealth and prosperity unleashed by efficient agriculture. In 1950 food gobbled up more than a quarter of household spending. That figure has plummeted to single digits—leaving the economy with enough excess capital to finance people like Mr. Ells who want to create a company with a marketing model deriding efficient agriculture. The romantic longing for colonial-era farming has grown precisely as the share of people who actually plow fields has dwindled to 2% of society.

Also ironic is Chipotle’s campaign against genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs. Earlier this year the company celebrated “a farewell to GMOs,” not that anyone has ever fallen violently ill from eating a GMO. The company thus plays into public fears that crops with tweaked DNA are Frankenfood, but E. coli is all natural. Genetic modification makes agriculture more sustainable: Shoring up a crop’s defenses against insects or drought helps farmers cut back on pesticides and tillage.

Chipotle’s anti-GMO and locavore advertising has been part of a commercial strategy to differentiate from competitors and make a buck. Perhaps no longer: On Tuesday the stock tumbled below $500 for the first time since May 2014, with the price down about 25% for the year. Sales are expected to drop precipitously this quarter. The market is a brutal teacher when customers and investors realize a company isn’t practicing what it preaches.


Let them eat less!

And the American “non-GMO crowd answers: _ _ _ _ ??”
Anita Singh, arts and entertainment editor at the Telegraph (U.K.), writing for the paper on Nov. 12:

Dame Vivienne Westwood, the fashion designer, has declared that people who can’t afford to buy organic food should “eat less” and stop getting fat. The millionaire designer made the comments as she delivered a petition to Downing Street protesting about genetically modified food.

When a BBC Radio 5 Live interviewer suggested that “not everybody can afford to eat organic food”, Dame Vivienne replied: “Eat less!” Told that many people in Britain are visiting food banks because they don’t have enough to put on their tables, so “to eat less isn’t an option”, Dame Vivienne was dismissive.

“They don’t have any choice—this is the point, isn’t it,” she said. . . .

Notable & Quotable: Dame Vivienne Westwood – WSJ.