By Jonathan Knutson –
There it was on the salt container label, the proud proclamation that the product inside was “non-GMO.”
I looked at the label a second time and then a third time, not quite trusting my eyes, before telling myself, “But salt doesn’t have genes. Of course it’s not genetically modified. Why bother labeling it non-GMO?”
Then I realized why: some consumers will pay extra for anything labeled non-GMO — and some food companies are happy to sell it to them at the higher price. Salt, though an extreme example, reflects this powerful and growing trend that affects both farmers and consumers.
I think again of that experience with “non-GMO” salt after recently writing a short story on U.S. dairy farmers’ ongoing campaign to combat what they say are deceptive labels. Dairy officials report seeing some success.
So: Is the non-GMO label on salt deceptive? Well, let’s look at the other side of the issue.
The website of Non-GMO Project — which describes itself as dedicated to preserving and identifying non-GMO products — says “most table salt or sea salt on the market today has minor amounts of other ingredients such as the anti‑caking agent dextrose, which are very likely to be derived from genetically modified corn.”
The web site also says, “Verifying only high-risk products puts a burden on consumers to know what crops are currently being genetically engineered and which ingredients are derived from these GMOs.”
Maybe you find those arguments convincing. I do not. Genetically modified corn — or any other food — doesn’t concern me; a comprehensive 2016 report from the National Academy of Sciences finds that GMO foods are as safe to eat as their non-GMO counterparts. Nor can I fathom the logic of lumping salt with crops, or plants cultivated for food; I also fail to see how it’s “a burden on consumers” to figure that out.
It’s a stretch, I think, to say that non-GMO salt labels are downright deceptive. But they’re a meaningless distinction at best, misleading at worst.