In recent years there’s been a significant shift in how the public views consuming genetically modified organisms.  

A 2018 Pew Research Center report showed that 49% of U.S. adults believe foods containing GMOs are worse for one’s health than foods with no GMO ingredients.  The same report showed just five (cinco, cinque, fem, itsu, wu, chamisha) percent – yeah 5%  – say GMO foods are better for one’s health. 

But what’s more important is the trend.  The 2018 report showed people saying foods with GMO ingredients are worse for one’s health was ten percentage points higher than the 2016 Pew Research Center report.

So it’s not surprising to me that food manufacturers are eager and anxious to jump on the non-GM0 bandwagon. 

The no-GMO label gold standard comes from the Non-GMO Project, an independent organization that verifies products.   To qualify for the non-GMO label a product has to be certified as containing ingredients with less than 1 percent genetic modification.  And the process for certification is rigorous.  

For example say a cookie manufacturer uses honey in production.  It has to be proven that bees producing the honey are, for example, not in proximity to GMO corn fields.   DNA testing is often used to prove ingredients are truly GMO free.

But it turns out there are companies who have created their own GMO labels.   Those labels are muddying the waters and creating confusion. The fact is that not all GMO labels are created equally.

Ad now we’ll find out if the courts agree in a case involving Nestle USA.  The company has its own “no GMO Ingredients” label which you can find on a number of Nestle products including Lean Cuisine Marketplace frozen dinners and Coffee-Mate Natural Bliss creamers,.  A lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court Central District of California, Western Division claims that the:

“No GMO IngredientsTM seal of approval is not the product of a neutral, third party, but instead the work of Defendant itself. No GMO Ingredients is not a designation bestowed by a non-profit group, or even a neutral third party, but instead is the creation of Defendant. In other words, the No GMO Ingredients seal of approval is nothing more than Defendant touting its own Products.”

Moreover Nestle’s No GMO Ingredients label uses the same green and yellow palette as that from the Non-GMO project.

For its part Nestle says it’s No GMO ingredients label meets new federal bioengineered labeling standards as well as the European SGS standard.

But here’s the rub.  The SGS standard does not include dairy or meat ingredients from animals fed GMOs.  Meanwhile the Non-GMO Project does not permit its label to be placed on dairy or meat projects where the animals are fed GMOs.

Are you confused?

In September US district Judge Otis D. Wright ruled that there was enough confusion that the case could go to trial:

“In sum, Plaintiff has adequately alleged that Defendant’s No GMO Ingredients Label could deceive a reasonable consumer, and Plaintiff has sufficiently stated a claim as to this cause of action.”

Ultimately this case should turn on what an adult can reasonable expect a GMO label to convey.    Does Nestle’s No GMO Ingredients label mimic a third party verified seal with stricter standards thus confusing consumers?

Given that production of non-GMO foods is a multi-billion dollar industry a lot is riding on the answer.

About Dave Dickey

Dave Dikcey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for the Midwest Center covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

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