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The Non-GMO Project: Creating fake news at the grocery store

Jul 24, 2017

Going to the grocery store has become a parallel experience to reading political opinions online — half truths, emotional visuals and the ability to exist in an echo chamber only interacting with others just like you. This means true transparency, science and understanding is being eliminated from the consumer experience.

I am increasingly finding items that are labeled "Non-GMO Project Verified." It seems as if the "orange butterfly logo" has made its way to products on every aisle of the grocery store. I've encountered the logo on tomatoes, orange juice, blueberries, coffee products and even water. But there are no GM (genetically modified) tomatoes, orange juice, blueberries, coffee beans or water. The 10 GM crops that are or soon will be commercially available in the U.S. include squash, cotton, soybeans, sweet and field corn, papaya, alfalfa, sugar beets, canola, potatoes and apples.

The Non-GMO Project isn't telling consumers that many of the products labeled "Non-GMO Project Verified" don't even have a GM derived ingredient. Instead, the group is using its brand to fuel a business model that is based on fear and lack of information. That's the opposite of transparency.

To date, more than 43,000 products bear the Non-GMO Project Verified seal, which according to the organization is "North America's most trusted seal for GMO avoidance." On that same website, the Non-GMO Project also states pretty bluntly the following: "There is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs." This is fake news at its best.

In complete contrast, all of the following organizations have said GMOs are safe: The World Health Organization, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the American Medical Association, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, The National Academy of Sciences, The European Commission, The French Academy of Science and the Union of German Academics of Sciences and Humanities as well as 107 Nobel Laureates, among others.

That seems like a scientific consensus of the world's most respected organizations. Why would the Non-GMO Project not include that information so consumers can make up their own minds on scientific consensus? Could it be because it wants to sell more of its logo to food companies catering to scared and confused consumers?

Sharing "facts" that leave out parts of the story is a classic tactic for political or financial gain. The Non-GMO Project verification effort is simply a business venture that is creating consumer confusion in the name of transparency. Unfortunately, it is creating an environment that is based on inaccurate information and doesn't take into account the benefits of biotechnology.

Personally this is painful for me because I represent America's farmers and ranchers — many of whom choose to grow GM crops because they recognize and have experienced the environmental and sustainability benefits first hand on their own farms. And by villainizing these seeds, the symbol telling people GMOs are not safe attacks farmers and scientists who dedicate their lives to bring healthy choices to Americans.

And when I see food companies and even agriculture companies cave to the pressure to be "Non-GMO" certified even when they know that symbol is not based on science or critical thinking but on emotional manipulation, my heart breaks a little.

Let's think twice about purchasing items simply based on the "marketing speak," and instead support real transparency so that consumers can make educated choices about what they're feeding themselves and their families.

Editor’s note: Krotz is the CEO of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.
This piece first appeared on Agri-Pulse Communications.