A question about GMOs for Naked Juice, Silk, Cascadian Farm, Kashi and Honest Tea: Which side are you on, boys?

Naked Juice says it doesn’t use ingredients produced using biotechnology as a matter of principle.

Silk, the company that put soymilk on supermarket shelves, says:

We’re proud to participate in the Non-GMO Project, a no a nonprofit, multi-stakeholder collaboration committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers and providing verified non-GMO choices.

Cascadian Farm (“We were organic before organic was a trend”) assures consumers that “you can know when you see the “certified organic” USDA seal on the front of our package that GMO crops have not been used.”

You’ll hear much the same from Kashi (“seven of our foods are now officially Non-GMO Project Verified“) and Honest Tea, which says:

Honest Tea doesn’t use any Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOS) and supports the idea that more transparent labeling will help consumers make clear choices.

The thing is, each of these upstart brands, which tout their commitment to natural or organic product, and to transparency, is owned by a big food conglomerate that opposes GMO labeling.

Think of it this way: Naked Juice (PepsiCo.), Silk (Dean Foods), Cascadian Farm (General Mills) Kashi (Kellogg) and Honest Tea (Coca-Cola) are like kids who don’t agree with their parents.

These, though, are family arguments with big consequences for food shoppers. Big food and agriculture companies funding a campaign which has raised more than $23 million to defeat California’s Proposition 37, a ballot initiative that would mandate clear labeling of genetically engineered (GE) ingredients on food packages. PepsiCo, for example, has donated $1.7 million to defeat Prop. 37, while Coca-Cola has spent more than $1.1 million. Kellogg ($612,000), General Mills ($520,000) and Dean Foods ($253,000) are big donors, too. Biotech companies Monsanto and DuPont have given even more — $4 million apiece — according to data compiled by public TV station KCET.

Mark Kastel, co-director of The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based advocacy group, said that consumers who purchase natural and organic food should be aware that they are supporting big food companies that want to deny them the right to know about GMOs in their food. He’s launched a petition drive asking the big food companies to back labeling and published this graphic, showing where food companies stand.

In a press release, Kastel wrote:

We welcome corporate involvement in the organic food industry, but only when the parent company subscribes to the values that the organic food movement is based on. We have a problem with the duplicity of corporations that hide under a ‘holier than thou’ marketing brand and then undermine the very values of the organic movement. [emphasis added]

I’m not sure that I agree that there’s anything nefarious about these contributions. The big food companies argue that the GMO labels are unnecessary, and in any event that labeling shouldn’t be decided by individual states. Consumers who want to avoid GMOs can buy organic products because the national organic standards prohibit GMOs.

Having said that, there’s no doubt that the political power of the organic movement has been diminished as upstart, mission-driven brands have been gobbled up by big companies like Coca-Cola and General Mills that have their own political agendas.

What’s more, the fact that so many organic and natural brands have become swallowed by Big Food means that most of the money flowing into the Prop. 37 campaign is aimed at defeating the initiative. About $3 million has been raised to support the labeling campaign, much of it from independent organic brands such as Nature’s Path, Dr. Bronner’s, Nutiva and Lundberg rice.

The California vote will be an important test of consumer sentiment about genetically-engineered crops. GE corn and soy are widely grown, and they find their way into many of the packaged goods on grocery shelves. They’re safe to eat, most scientists agree (just as most scientists agree that man-made climate change is a threat), although their environmental impact is a matter of considerable debate.

And, while companies would still be free to use GMO ingredients, a labeling mandate in a big state like California could, in effect, bring about national labeling because of the costs and logistical challenges of producing different packages for different places.

Interestingly, Gary Hirschberg of Stonyfield Farm has led a national petition drive, called Just Label It, aimed at persuading the FDA to require transparency around GMOs in food. Other firms that support Just Label It include Honest Tea and Annie’s Inc.

By email, Seth Goldman, Honest Tea’s co-founder and TeaEO, told me:

With a name like Honest Tea, we are committed to transparency in our ingredients, in our products, and in the way we do business. Since 1999 when we launched the world’s first organic bottled tea, we’ve used labeling that includes clear, accurate information consumers want to know…All of our products carry the USDA Organic seal, as well as the “No GMOs” logo.

Honest Tea, an operating unit of The Coca-Cola Company, believes all food labeling requirements should be established by the federal government. We do not support state by state regulation of food labels, which places an unrealistic burden on the food and beverage industry.

But The Cornucopia Institute’s Mark Kastel argues that national efforts like the Just Label It campaign are not nearly as likely to succeed as the citizen-led Prop. 37:

I think that supporting the Just Label It Campaign, while you sit on the sidelines during the battle royale in California is disingenuous. The Just Label It Campaign is a top-down operation promulgated by Gary Hirschberg and some other corporate executives…Although there’s nothing wrong with what it is advocating, thus far, they have been wholly ineffective.

There hasn’t been one tangible particle of hope in trying to persuade the FDA of anything in terms of regulating or labeling. This is true under the current administration and every other Democratic and Republican administration since the commercialization of GMO crops. The biotechnology and agribusiness industries are, with their investments in federal campaigns and Washington lobbyist, just too powerful. It does not matter what the polling says citizens want.

But in California citizens do have power, at the ballot box. And polling shows that this is winnable. And some of these corporate executives can thump their chests all they want proclaiming their adamant rejection of GMOs, and their support for labeling, but if they sit this one out we are going to make sure that people know it.

What do you think?

Comments

  1. Great article. I’m actually puzzled by how virulent the corporate reaction is to labeling GMOs. Do the people who buy Lucky Charms really care?

    Seriously though, they’ve got the opportunity to let GMOs stand on their merits and they’ve bulldozed it into a power war. Why spend all those millions? The optimist in me says that maybe the “kids”, as it were, are as much a hedge on the future as they are a good investment. The organics movement is only growing in strength.

  2. Marc Gunther says:

    Thanks, Nick, and you ask a good question–what’s the harm in labeling? If Coke, Pepsi, General Mills all think they are fine, why not defend them? I happen to think they’re probably right, though my mind isn’t made up.

    On the other hand, why not let those companies who are GMO-free just keep labeling their products as such, as they are doing, and then try to win over consumers on the merits of organic and GMO-free agriculture? People should probably assume in any event that just about everything with corn or soy in it that doesn’t say GMO-free uses GMO ingredients.

    • Did you mean to state that consumer should assume that everything with corn or soy…that doesn’t say GMO-free *or certified organic*…uses GMO ingredients? (Also, don’t forget the GMO canola….)

      The non-GMO project labeling and licensing process is expensive. Many question why farmers and brands/manufacturers who are producing their products under organic standards, which prohibit the use of GMO seed, should have to bear non-GMO testing and labeling costs while those who produce GMOs get off free. It’s particularly a shame for small scale farmers who are growing organically to be burdened with such costs. Of course, contamination by GMO crops is an issue for organic producers but, again, why should organic producers bear the cost instead of the GMO producers who are the source of contamination? (With non-organic non-GMO products, the issue is more complicated, and one might be more inclined to agree brands and/or ingredient suppliers should pay for testing and labeling. Yet, one might certainly concur that farmers who can prove they are not using GMO seed/plants should not have to pay for crop testing.)

      • Producers of non-GMO products, whether organic or not, are seeking to differentiate their products from others. I fail to see why their competitors should be expected to bear the costs of this product differentiation effort.

        Your choice of the word “contamination” above is a bit judgmental.

        • Hi Eric

          Re: contamination, this is the standard term used across industry to describe the unintentional, unwanted addition of GMO to non-GMO crops, chiefly associated with pollen drift from GMO to non-GMO crops, from seed and animal feed to consumer food products. There are documented cases where organic and otherwise non-GMO producers have lost sales when their crops were contaminated by pollen drift, and their buyers, who wanted non-GMO crops (seed, feed, food, etc.) and required/implemented testing, rejected them. Google the phrase and you will find many references https://www.google.com/search?q=gmo+contamination&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

          Some GMO crops are partially regulated, such as sugar beets. This was done to reduce/prevent contamination (which impacts beta vulgaris crops, beyond beets, such as Swiss chard). Unfortunately, there are documented cases where GMO producers shirked the regulation and planted too close to an organic/non-GMO farm, and beta vulgaris crops were contaminated. Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley is one example. Organic seed producers cannot sell their seed to customers with whom they contracted. The GMO producer offered to buy their seed. This affects not only the farmers who grew the seed, but others who need organic seed to comply with organic farming regulations, or who do not want GMOs in their home garden.

    • I agree that all products should be labeled with all the ingredients including all gmo’s. The packaging that says Certified Organic or all organic and non GMO’s are a given. I have stopped using 95% of the products I used to use because of the gmo’s if we don’t take care of ourselves who will. Our gardens plants and seeds are 100% gmo free no pesticides either.
      If we as consumers can do that why can’t these corporations that are putting foods on the shelf that are causing terrible health problems? It is time for us to all stand up for ourselves and stop these corporate companies from poisoning our foods!!!!!

  3. The demand for organic products is currently being satisfied in the market. As the demand grows, it will continue to be satisfied in the market. Companies will produce what their customers want to buy. However, it is not reasonable to expect them to completely revamp their entire product lines to satisfy the demands of a small percentage of their customers, especially when that revamp would likely result in price increases which would affect all of their customers.

  4. Ed, the issue is transparency and the right of consumers, 96% of whom in some polls (and majorities in others) have said they wanted the labeling, to know what kind of food they are eating. That’s no minority. Those who don’t care, can eat GMO. Others, who are concerned about potential health effects of GMO, have a right to make their own decisions based on actual information. Organic food is not always available, and it is too expensive for many people’s budget. To say, “they can just eat organic” is to say the poor or middle class doesn’t get a choice to eat GMO or not.

    • Food companies are free to label their non-GMO products as such, as Marc suggested above. Consumers who wish to purchase non-GMO products can do so, whether those products are organic or not. As the demand for non-GMO products increases, more food companies will offer more non-GMO products.

      There is no RIGHT of consumers to know whether a given food product contains GMOs, whether consumers or their advocates believe that to be the case or not. Food companies could be required by law or regulation to include GMO notification on their labels, though that requirement would not create a consumer right, but merely a producer duty.

      I suspect your are well aware that the positive responses to consumer polls of the type you reference are far greater than the positive actions of the same consumers when actually making purchases.

      • It occurs to me that there is an advantage to the current “non-GMO” labeling, in that producers can track market interest in and support for “non-GMO” products through consumers’ actual purchase decisions. Tracking changes in actual purchase decisions is far more accurate than polling interest. This mechanism has worked well for “low fat”, “no fat”, “gluten free”, “sugar free”, “low sodium” and other special market products, as well as for “organic” foods.

        In addition, a “non-GMO” notation on the product label might cause some consumers who do not know what a GMO is to “Google” the term.

        • Hi Ed,
          I’m not a well educated person, I was lucky to finish high school. I am considered poor as I support my son on less than 26,000 a year. I also support my mother who receives no benefits from SS or disability. I wonder why I do t have a right to know what I am eating and feeding my family? Why is real food not good food anymore? And why am I forced to have 1 meal a day that’s organic vs 3 meals that’s not because I do not want to eat so
          something that is not clearly safe for me or my environment?
          Why is one company trying to patent every seed available in the world? How can this be a good thing? Why would limiting the varieties of fruits and vegetables benefit our Earth and its inhabitants (that would be you and me, friend)? How can I get passed trusting a pesticide company that wants to control my food? How can I trust them when try have continually lied to me and the world about how “safe” their products have been to humans in the past?
          Even as an uneducated person, I want to be informed of what I am consuming, and as a poor person, I still want to be able to eat what is good safe and healthy for me.

      • With all due respect Ed sir, people like you are the problem with the food industry. Companies want to hide their ingredients ie labeling ascorbic or citric acid as vitamin c when all it is is a bioengineered product deriving from GMO corn, honest tea will willingly tell you their ascorbic and citric acid comes from corn. Vitamin C from corn? Naturally? How? Regardless of consumer rights these companies are making false promises to consumers.
        Again no matter the consumer right, (anyone who says consumers have no rights to ingredients clearly has something to hide) the ingredient list should match the promise made in the label as well as the ethical standpoint of the company. These companies are lacking and there is not much regulation due to the manipulating ignorance as you have displayed here.

  5. The reason that calls for a national ruling on labeling are unworkable is because of the corrupting influence of corporate money in the legislative and judicial branches of the federal government. The only way around this is to go directly to the people, which can only be done by state ballot initiatives. Industry people know this, which is why they are pumping so much money into Prop 37.

    • We are incredibly fortunate that union money and environmental advocacy group money, etc. do not also have a “corrupting influence … in the legislative and judicial branches of the federal government.”

  6. Thanks for this article. I had no idea. How can one company (Naked Juice) have different principles than the company which owns it? What hypocrisy.

    • Pepsi acquired Naked Juice in 2007 because it was successful in its market niche. Pepsi had no reason to shift Naked Juice away from its successful market roots. Pepsi also had no reason to shift Pepsi away from its successful market roots as the result of the acquisition of a far smaller company. I fail to see any grounds for a charge of hypocrisy on Pepsi’s part.

      Do you work for or with others? If so, are your principles different from theirs? If so, does that make you, or them, hypocrites?

      • Before Pepsi acquired Naked Juice the product did not contain “natural flavors.” Dig deep and you might know what that actually means. *Hint-“natural ingrediants” can contain gm products.

  7. Tome Trujillo says:

    I think that this is actually a great opportunity for consumers to get to know who owns what and what their real agendas are. In addition we are now not only able to see who is in the pockets of monsanto we can go around the feeble FDA which is filled with Monsanto employees like Michael Taylor (wiki this guy) who has been appointed to Deputy Commisioner of our FDA … This man was the VP of public policy for Monsanto. The creators of Genetically Modified foods and the people making hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars from the unregulated sale of GMO crops and their sneaky inclusion in most processed foods in this country.

    Conflict of interest? Maybe this is why GMO’s are labled EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE CIVILIZED WORLD except here in the united states.

    Not too hard to connect the dots now is it.

    He is just one of many government traitors who are working under conflicts of interest not for US but for monsanto.

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150579551744243&set=a.360596279242.154859.346377049242&type=1&theater

    Here is a shortlist of the people we need to fire before we will see any real changes representing our interests in regards to FDA regulation of GMO foods, testing, or labling.

    What is happening in california is just the beginning and the foxes are being forced out into the light. Cant wait to see these schills FIRED for what they have profited from.

    • Note the acute shortage of “waskely Wepublicans” in the short list in your link. I suspect there might be a message there, if one could only decode it.

  8. I just don’t understand why there’s so many forces against what is natural already on this earth. This earth provides us with what we need to survive, we don’t need GE corn or soy to live. I just want to live happy, healthy and free and selfish, evil people who are in higher positions just make life seem worthless and sickening to me. Why are there vile people like this on this earth protecting what is harmful and negative? All the world needs is positivity, peace and honesty but too many people don’t understand the importance of that. We will fight until the end if that’s what they want.

  9. Solution is simple: consumers who care about what they eat need to also start caring about who they buy food from. There is no point pretending to be socially and environmentally conscious while sleepwalking in the grocery store and filling the pockets of companies like Pepsi and Nestle.

    If you REALLY care, vote with your money and buy from local and/or companies that you KNOW. And if you expect this to be easy, you’re completely delusional. Greed is the greatest force on earth. You want to take it on, you better come prepared to put in real effort.

  10. Fantastic points made here Marc. Thanks for calling this to our attention. You can’t spin up an ethical branch of a corporation and expect to be taken seriously. It’s all in or all out. Otherwise, you’re just charading as something you’re not, all in the name of profits.

  11. “It’s all in or all out. Otherwise, you’re just charading as something you’re not, all in the name of profits.”

    Does this mean that Nissan, having introduced the Leaf, must produce only all-electric vehicles? Does this mean that GE, having introduced both wind turbines and solar panels, must produce only alternative energy equipment? Does this mean that electric utilities, having begun introducing renewably generated electricity, must now sell only renewably generated electricity?

    Or is it simply meaningless?

    • Ed Reid, you’re way off base. I dont know if you intentionally posed a misleading strawman or you just didnt realize your logic was faulty, but it clearly is.

      To follow your example: “Does Nissan have to produce only all electric vehicles”? Well no, but if Nissan were to go around lobbying for regulations that make electric vehicles less viable then yes indeed they would basically be lying to the consumer who buys electric vehicles from them and they would also be wasting their own time producing the Leaf.

      • Sam,

        Who is lobbying for regulations to make non-GMO products less viable than they are now?

        I see companies lobbying to keep their current mainstream products from being made less viable than they are now; and, to avoid being required to pay for differentiating competing products. Pepsi is not trying to reduce the viability of its investment in Naked Juice; rather, it is trying to protect the viability of its investments in its signature products, which are far more important to its corporate future.

        • Products which harm the long term sustainability of our environment cannot be described as anything other than also harmful to the “corporate future”. Unless of course said corporation does not care about our future and is only focused on its next quarterly statement.

          But thank you for underlining precisely why anyone with eyes open should be voting with their dollars and avoiding all Pepsi products, including their fig leaf variants.

  12. I did not realize that your scientific research had determined that GMO products “harm the long term sustainability of our environment”.

    • Explain to us for example how the environment benefits from the use of “Roundup Ready” GMO seeds. If you call this “long-term sustainability” then I have a bridge you might want to buy.

  13. You dont want to talk about Roundup? Gee, wonder why. Not only did Monsanto create this chemical pesticide, which has qustionable effects, but then they package that chemical to go with GMO seeds.

    More on “Roundup” here.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyphosate

    It says it all about the GMO industry, led by Monsanto. Not the kind of people I wasnt involved hidden in my food supply, thank you.

    • I am not qualified to talk about Roundup. I wonder whether you are qualified either, though you haven’t let that stop you..

      You have the ability to select “organic” and “non-GMO” labelled foods, so you needn’t include Monsanto in your food supply. You can, as Marc suggested above, assume that food not labelled “organic” or “non-GMO” might well contain one or more GMO components.

      I assume you would prefer to “punish” foods containing GMOs by requiring their labels to bear the “scarlet letters” GMO in a larger type face than any other text on the label, with the possible exception of the brand name. Perhaps you would prefer a simple skull & crossbones (poison) label. I’d suggest you not hold your breath, or stop eating, until either of those options is put into effect.

      • If there is nothing wrong with the product, there is no problem in labeling what is in it, Ed. Saying your product has GMO is not a scarlet letter by any means. Don’t treat it like a dirty secret if you don’t want it to become one.

      • By the way speaking of a “scarlet letter” for Monsanto and its “Roundup Ready” GM products, a brief read of the most recent edition of the Food & Chemical Toxicology Journal suggests that consumers would certainly want to if they too are being used as lab rats, just to turn a quick buck for Monsanto execs and the factoryfoodcos who patronise them:
        http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691512005637

    • Telling the truth is not “punishment” – unless of course said facts are not acceptable to the customer. Not sure why the self-proclaimed advocates of “consumer choice” insist that said choices should be made in the dark. Put the facts on the table.

  14. Kat Majors says:

    I’m not really certain why adding information to the labels of food would make it cost prohibitive… seems like there are lots and lots of products that have to constantly update their labels because of FDA regulations. Products constantly change their labels to “NEW” and “IMPROVED” or change the scent or flavor. Don’t they have to re-print new labels on a regular basis? Seems like there was a lot of resistance to restaurants posting the nutritional content of their meals – I don’t recall any of them closing their businesses as a result of that (although lots of them complained about it). Just tell us what is in the food we are eating… it is the moral and right thing to do.

  15. Reading the comments I don’t get the drift that any of you actually farm for a living. Most of you have gotten your information from some website who published some research of findings that supported one side of the GMO argument. I think what many people f
    don’t understand about gmo’s is that this technology allows farmers to actually uses fewer chemicals while at the same time making higher yields. Before the roundup technology, we planted conventional varieties that required the incorporation of 2 chemicals. We sprayed Prowl to control grasses and Treflan to control the broadleaf weeds. Both of those had to be incorporated into the soil through tillage. We would always have escapes and would have to follow that up with at least one, sometimes two post applications of Select for grass and Prowl for broadleafs. Those days are gone now. Now we can use one application of roundup and flex star to keep us clean. These applications are made two months before the plant produces any fruit. The idea that if farmers only planted conventional seeds so they wouldn’t use chemicals is rediculous. One percent of the population can’t feed the 99 if we let the weeds and the diseases take our crops.

  16. Just burn and kill all GMO forever, they are an abomination to nature, and are going to kill everyone, or leave them sterile sooner or later. It is all about money. GMO food should be banned worldwide.

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