In today’s third and final piece on the Non-GMO Labeling Project, Sales Representative Gabriella della Croce offers us some thoughtful reflections on whether this particular labeling initiative is “better than nothing” for consumers who do not want to be consuming GMO products. We leave you with this question to ponder: Is something better than nothing, or does this initiative, with its good intentions, actually undermine other efforts which go so much further to keep consumers informed, educated, and healthy? As always, we appreciate your feedback and your views. Let us know what you think!
The Non-GMO Labeling Project: Is something better than nothing?
“If I can’t afford to buy organic flour, should I bother paying for the Non-GMO verified seal?” When a good friend asked me this a few months ago, I told her that I didn’t think I knew enough about it to give her a thoughtful answer. Ever since then, I’ve been noticing the little orange Non-GMO butterfly seal everywhere, and trying to decide what I think.
If organic prices are too expensive and your budget limits your options to conventional or Non-GMO, isn’t Non-GMO better than nothing at all? What about the millions of Americans who want to feed their families well, but can’t afford to buy organic?
I think a lot about food justice and food access. And the Non-GMO project seems to offer some good middle ground. Yet saying that something is better than nothing strikes me as a sad place from which to reform a food system as broken as our own. Why should we settle for this? You could argue that it’s a good stop-gap measure, which seems to fit neatly into the Non-GMO Project’s vision. Founder Meaghan Westgate writes:
“I am not at all opposed to efforts to mandate labeling of all GMO foods, but I am a pragmatic person. After 10 years of the USDA ignoring our pleas, many of us who are committed to the non-GMO future of food chose to take matters into our own hands by creating the Non-GMO Project. It is a proactive alternative, and it by no means precludes the mandated labeling option.”
Yet in the rush to offer consumers more information, there seems to be some seriously careless rubber-stamping. I even saw Non-GMO Verified salt. This kind of marketing clearly fuels consumer’s confusion–and this salt is just one item on a long list of Non-GMO verified products that cannot possibly be genetically modified.
On one hand I recognize and appreciate the value of offering shoppers the ability to avoid GMOs even if they can’t afford organic products. However, seeing the label used so irresponsibly leaves a bad taste in my mouth and strikes me as an opportunistic rush to take advantage of consumers’ ignorance.
Grocery stores across the country are swamped with an alphabet soup of certification labels and dishonest marketing claims. There are six different seals all insisting that they guarantee Fair Trade. There’s the meaningless but popular term “natural,” plastered indiscriminately on just about everything. There’s organic, which means that 95% of ingredients must be organic and cannot contain GMOs. Now, on top of all this, there’s the Non-GMO Project butterfly seal.
Isn’t more information and extra verification a good thing in a market so flooded with hype? Maybe not. To me, the Non-GMO Project seal seems redundant on organic products. Perhaps many consumers don’t know that organic already means Non-GMO. Or maybe they’re worried about that 5% of ingredients that don’t have to be organic for a product to be labeled as organic. Yet the Non-GMO Project acknowledges that it can’t guarantee products are totally GMO-free either! Their website says:
Unfortunately, “GMO free” and similar claims are not legally or scientifically defensible due to limitations of testing methodology. In addition, the risk of contamination to seeds, crops, ingredients and products is too high to reliably claim that a product is “GMO free.” The Project’s claim offers a true statement acknowledging the reality of contamination risk, but assuring the shopper that the product in question is in compliance with the Project’s rigorous standard.”
Perhaps by criticizing this label, I am pitting the mediocre against the good. It seems to me like many of the people who were involved in starting the Non-GMO Project have good intentions. Yet I worry that this seal undermines the much more comprehensive organic standard. I worry that it undermines the more ambitious state initiatives to label GMOs, rather than foods that don’t contain GMOs.