By C. Dean McGrath Jr.:
For a long time, American consumers had it pretty good. They could read a food label or product advertisement and trust that the information it contained was reasonably truthful.
That’s because ever since their formation over 100 years ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) were there actively to enforce laws against false and misleading marketing schemes. Over the years, the two agencies earned a reputation for impartial, even aggressive, enforcement of consumer protection regulations. Most Americans rightly believed these “consumer watchdogs” were on their side.
Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. While the laws against phony food claims and misleading statements are still enforced in some areas, the FDA and FTC now treat one segment of the food and agriculture industry as if the laws do not apply.
That’s the $47 billion and growing organic food industry, where misleading health claims about conventional agriculture are almost universal – especially claims against GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, mostly grains.
Take, for example, the seemingly ubiquitous Non-GMO Project butterfly label appearing today on more than 50 thousand products. The Project – much of whose board is drawn from the organic industry – states on its website that its purpose is to help consumers avoid “high risk” products containing GMO “contamination.” To that end the Project provides, for a hefty price, testing and certification – none of which is government verified — and the right to stick their butterfly on your package.
The law is clear that food claims made on websites come under FDA’s labeling guidelines. It is also clear that the assertions the Project makes on its website should be captured under FTC’s equally strict laws against misleading advertising.
The terms “high risk” and “contamination” are about as misleading as it gets. No matter how one feels about GMOs personally, the scientific consensus is clear: GMOs currently on the market are every bit as safe to eat as foods produced by conventional breeding. Scientific and regulatory bodies around the world agree on this, including the World Health Organization, the European Food Safety Authority, the British Royal Society, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, as well as the U.S. EPA, USDA, and the FDA itself, under both Democratic and Republican administrations.