From acai to condoms, companies are capitalizing on anti-GMO fervor, with misleading labels.
At bus stops all over my neighborhood are ads for Absolut vodka, touting its eco-friendly attributes — namely that it is produced with GMO-free ingredients. This is a bit rich since Absolut is made from wheat and there is no such thing as genetically-engineered wheat, at least none that is grown commercially.
It’s like a hamburger joint touting sugar-free beef. If your beef is grassfed, or your Vodka organic, go ahead, make a sign about it. But don’t try to make headlines with gluten-free tomatoes.
Of course the reason for this false — or at least, misleading advertising — is to capitalize on anti-GMO hysteria.
Scientists have experimented with genetically-engineered wheat for years, but the path from experiment to commercial production is long, expensive and full of red tape. Which is why there are actually very few GMO crops that have been approved for use and adopted by farmers on a large scale.
Two of those — corn and soy — are grown on an epic scale; these are by far the most widely planted crops in North America. But there are only a handful of other GMO crops that are grown at the sort of scale where they would end up in a mass-produced food product: sugar beets, squash and papaya, plus canola and cotton, the seeds of which are converted to vegetable oil. GMO alfalfa is also grown, but as livestock feed, not for direct human consumption.
GMO apples, potatoes and salmon have recently been introduced, but so far these are produced on a limited scale and there is no guarantee they will be widely adopted. A number of other GMO crops have been trialled over the years, including tomatoes, but did not catch on with farmers or consumers.
So if you see a GMO-free label screaming out at you from the grocery store shelf on a product that doesn’t contain one of the ingredients above, know that it’s a poser. Here are a few glaring examples:
This is the fruit of a palm that grows wild in the Amazon rainforest — definitely not a plant that the folks at Monsanto are tinkering with. Yet brands like Sambazon. TerrAmazon and Amafruits proudly sport a non-GMO label.
A company called Sustain offers four types of GMO-free condoms. There’s certainly no such thing as genetically-engineered latex, and though condom boxes don’t list ingredients it seems safe to assume corn, soy or sugar beets are not typically among them.
In the age of GMO hysteria, it is extremely common for seed companies to note prominently on packaging and in promotional materials that they proudly refuse to sell genetically engineered seeds. But GMO seeds for homegrown vegetables do not exist. While it’s true that a tiny amount of the sweet corn and squash found on supermarket shelves is genetically engineered, those farmers are getting their seeds from ag suppliers — you won’t find them on the shelf at your local garden center.
While GMO ingredients like corn meal, canola oil or soy lecithin may lurk in some bread products, a typical wholesome loaf — wheat, yeast, salt and water, plus anything used to flavor it — has not been subject to genetic engineering. Yet scores of bread companies, along with pasta, cookie and cracker manufacturers, brag about their GMO-free creds on products ranging from Alvarado Street Bakery sprouted sourdough to Wasa rye crisps.
These days the pet aisle is full of GMO posers, including kitty litter, dog shampoo and nutritional supplements.
Other than GMO salmon (which is approved for distribution in the U.S., but so far has only been distributed in Canada), no commercially-produced meat is genetically engineered. But plenty of meat products proclaim their GMO-free status, as do many dairy products. However, the label does not necessarily preclude the livestock from being fed GMO grains — much to the chagrin of certified organic producers, who are prohibited from feeding GMO grains to their animals, yet lack a label that says so (some third-party GMO labeling regimes, including Non-GMO Project Verified, do require GMO-free animal feed in order to use the label on GMO animal products, though this is not a universal standard).
Salt has no genes to modify, but that doesn’t stop many of the health-conscious salt brands from slapping a GMO-free label on their products.