Kris Kring

Like 'Natural,' 'Non-GMO' Standing Alone Means Nothing

The other morning I was watching the Today Show, as I usually do as I am getting ready for work. Dr. Oz was on, as is not an unusual occurrence. Now, I don’t necessarily agree with how Dr. Oz has always positioned GMOs and related topics, but this morning I thought he actually did a pretty good job.

He talked about several common misconceptions on labeling. One that particularly caught my attention is that “‘Natural’ is not ‘Organic’.” He went on to say that “Natural” means nothing. I agree with him. There is no one definition of “Natural” when it comes to food labeling. Though the FDA is currently taking this under advisement and may set a definition, so stay tuned. Likewise, USDA “Organic” means it has followed a certain production process, which allows certain proscribed inputs, and yes this means chemicals, to be used.

Similarly to “Natural,” “Non-GMO” standing alone means nothing. Now there are several non-governmental bodies that have created their own verification programs, such as the Non-GMO Project. With this type of program, at least a consumer can potentially understand from such a group what its “seal” means or doesn’t mean. What makes me furious, just like Dr. Oz on “Natural,” is labeling foods as non-GMO when there is no equivalent GMO food. A personal example – I have a friend who decides she is going to try to eat organic and non-GMO as much as she can – this is certainly fine, her choice. I was over at her house with my four year old daughter, and my friend gave her some of those thin pretzels, which by the way I really like. Prominently on the bag was a non-GMO label. This surprised me, because I did not think of pretzels being made from ingredients that would contain a GMO product. I turned over the bag and low and behold, none of the ingredients would have any GMO variety equivalent. Every pretzel made with those ingredients would be non-GMO. To me this just stinks. Now whether or not it is “false” advertising, I have not analyzed. I do think it preys on the public, who generally don’t truly understand what these descriptions mean or don’t mean. It is worth noting here that there are currently only nine GMO crops commercially available in the U.S.

Kris Kring is vice president and associate general counsel for Bayer CropScience LP.

Consumers take many factors into account for their purchasing decisions, including labels, which is likely the first thing they see when browsing through grocery store aisles. (Image Credit: GMO Answers)

If consumers are going to make purchases based on labels such as natural, organic, or non-GMO, and particularly if they are going to spend more on them than the similar conventional product, I just ask that they educate themselves. Understand what it is they are really buying, or in the case described above, not really buying, before they spend their hard earned money. We are pressured so much today to be politically and socially correct, and marketers know and use it to their advantage. So as I have to teach my son, who is eight, when he says we need to buy X product because it does Y (read whatever the commercial just said verbatim) that it doesn’t necessarily mean it really does that so much and that we don’t really need to go out and buy that product.

Disclaimer Statement: This content does not contain legal advice and was written from the perspective of a general consumer and mother.  

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