By Kavin Senapathy –
Classic woven wheat cracker brand Triscuit announced its new Non-GMO Project verified label across its entire portfolio of products last month, with a television ad featuring spokesperson and Saturday Night Live comic Cecily Strong. The consumer criticism was swift, with hundreds of comments pouring in calling out Nabisco, a subsidiary of Mondelēz International, for “pandering to ignorance and fear,” and a sea of socially and scientifically conscious former Triscuit fans promising to give up the beloved crunchy snacks.
The backlash is more than gratuitous whining—I’ve discussed problems with the Non-GMO Project and anti-GMO marketing in my column often, including here:
American shoppers are surely familiar with the iconic orange butterfly logo. According to its website, retail partners report that Non-GMO Project Verified products are the fastest dollar growth trend in their stores, with total annual sales exceeding $19.2 billion. What the Non-GMO Project’s website doesn’t tell visitors is that its label tells us absolutely nothing meaningful about a product or its ingredients, including healthfulness, environmental impact, and working conditions for food workers and farmers. It doesn’t even tell consumers about a common objection to GMOs—whether or not a food product was derived from a patented crop variety. For example, the Non-GMO Project verified Opal Apple is patented, with orchards paying a royalty for the right to grow and sell the fruit.
“Another cynical business trying to cash in on fear and scientific illiteracy surrounding a technology that could do a lot of good,” writes one critic. “So long and thanks for all the crackers.” The comment mirrors several that point out that “GMO” technology is a tool, not an end product that can be boxed and sold. GMO, which stands for “Genetically Modified Organism,” has no tangible meaning but has become shorthand for any organism with traits created with modern molecular genetic engineering (GE) techniques. The only GE crops available in the U.S. are soybeans, corn (field and sweet), papaya, canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets and summer squash, with gene-silenced White Russet potatoes and Arctic Apples available in some test markets.
But nearly all of the foods we eat, with the exception of wild plants and game, including foods labeled non-GMO, natural, organic and even heirloom, have had their genes modified using unnatural methods, including exposure to radiation or chemicals intended to cause genetic mutations. The consensus on the safety of agricultural genetic engineering is as strong as the consensus on vaccine safety and even climate change, and, as I argued earlier this year, it’s high time we treat denial of all of these realities with equal disdain.