Despite what the marketing department says, the non-GMO label IS a declaration of opposition to GMO science

On the weekend, my tweet about an example of a misleading Non-GMO label garnered a reasonable amount of attention.

I got a response from a customer service representative on Monday morning, and they followed up by email. Here is the main part of their message:

“By bearing the Non-GMO stamp on our packaging, we are simply providing awareness and transparency to our consumers that have been asking and searching for it. We recognize there are benefits to genetically modified crops, which is why we have never and will never declare any opposition to GMO science. We understand the global perspective and benefits it has provided in many cases around the world. Over the past few years, we have received numerous inquiries from our consumers asking if our ingredients were sourced from genetically engineered crops. We recently decided to take the next step of full transparency, and had our ingredients formally verified by the Non-GMO project. All our artisan breads are made with yeast, an ingredient that can be grown on genetically engineered substrates. At ACE®, we use yeast that is grown only on cane sugar.”

That reference to cane sugar stands out, given this company’s apparent commitment to sustainability.

Their response is more or less what I expected. Doubling down seems to be the name of the game these days.

Although it was a somewhat busy day for me, I thought it important to respond immediately. Here is what I wrote:

Thanks for providing feedback, …. I understand your desire to respond to consumer interest in the nature of the ingredients in your products. This is admirable. However, with this issue in particular, there is substantial misinformation that has been propagated against the benefits of genetic engineering. Much of this is coordinated by groups that benefit from this fear-mongering. A prime example is NonGMO Project itself, which has ties to the Maharishi movement. Although NonGMO Project is non-profit, it has linked to for-profit Genetic-ID, which provides much of the testing. Here is some information.
In short, NonGMO Project is a huge scam. As a third party verification, it skirts the purpose and intent of CFIA regulations in Canada, which expressly prohibit labelling a product as non-GMO if there is no GMO version on the market. This is a particular problem that I have seen recently with greenhouse tomatoes sold in local stores.
It is interesting that you cite the use of yeast that is raised on cane sugar, presumably as an alternative to beet-source sugar. It turns out that this has detrimental environmental benefits, and this decision is actually working against environmental sustainability. This piece here touches on this, and many other reasons why people are shunning the non-GMO label.
You should be aware that there is a massive movement now of science-minded individuals who do not put up with this type of fear-mongering, whether it be Non-GMO Project, Dr. Oz, Food Babe, or Mercola. As you have seen from the response to my tweet over the weekend, your adoption of this label will result in many potential customers staying as far away as possible from your products simply because of that label and what it stands for.
You have indicated that you recognize the benefits of genetically modified crops. Perhaps you have not considered how the use of this label contributes to the demonization of this incredibly important technology. What many of us would like to see food companies do is to take a principled stand for science and the environment, and make efforts to actually engage their customers about the realities of the agriculture and food industries. There are so many great innovations in farming and food systems, many of which the general public is not aware. There are organizations out there that are eager to help companies to spread the word, if they are willing. If you need help getting in touch with some of these organizations, I would certainly be willing to help make the contacts.
I’ll leave you with this terrific piece by Will Saletan in Slate.
Best regards,

I am hopeful that ACE Bakery will take me up on the offer to put them in touch with some of the wonderful organizations that can help to tell the many stories of agricultural innovation. We need more principled companies to step up to the plate in a major way.

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