Grocery shopping was a lot easier when we innocently pulled a familiar brand off the shelf. Today packages claiming its contents are fat-free or gluten-free or non-GMO give us choices we may have never before considered. Some day you may need to bring a magnifying glass to the store to read the detailed disclaimers on food labels. Surely I exaggerate. Two recent stories in the news suggest otherwise.
Just after my last post, Campbell Soup announced it will soon disclose the presence of genetically altered ingredients across all its brands which include Prego and Pepperidge Farm. It's the first giant food company to break the code of silence since the FDA made GMO disclosure voluntary. In a challenge that's sure to resonate in the food additive industry, Greek yogurt maker Chobani has begun a market campaign that mocks Yoplait and Dannon for their use of additives in competing 100 calorie products. Those are fighting words.
Campbell Soup's step toward transparency is partly a response to the success of the Non-GMO movement whose voluntary verification project insignia appears on foods that contain 5% or less genetically altered ingredients. It also heralds the arrival in July of a Vermont law requiring manufacturers announce the presence of GMO ingredients on their product labels. Since there is presently no federal law to serve as an umbrella, imagine the chaos and expense it will cause if this law is passed in some states and not in others. Studies have revealed that consumers do want to know if products have been genetically altered, but there's little research on how that information will effect sales.
For the record, Monsanto has been selling corn and soybean seeds with an added gene that allows them to produce their own insecticide and herbicide. Since 1999 these have been planted over millions of acres worldwide. Large scale growth of GMO crops now include canola, sugar beets and cotton. Interestingly enough, Monsanto continues to sell the same insecticides and herbicides transgenic seeds were intended to eliminate. Nature still manages to keep the upper hand.
My point is that none of us are GMO virgins. It's too late to ask whether the addition of one or two genes among thousands that make up a genome presents a threat to our health. The FDA's scientists say that it's not a problem, for now. Meanwhile the technology that permits splicing and gene insertion is becoming more sophisticated making it likely that more transgenic foods will come up for approval in the future.
When consumers do read food labels, half the ingredients are most likely a mystery to all but the chemists. The FDA has approved what amounts to a food additive cabinet of more than 3000 synthetic chemicals. Gutsy little Chobani had the temerity to malign two additives used by its giant rivals knowing it would alarm consumers. Sure enough, General Mills Corp. Yoplait's parent company and Danone that owns Dannon brand slapped Chobani with "cease and desist" orders for false advertising.
The additives in question are: potassium sorbate (in Yoplait) which retards spoilage but has been used to kill bed bugs, and sucralose (in both brands), a generic form of Splenda. Sucralose contains three sweetness-enhancing chlorine molecules that allegedly pass through the body without a caloric effect. Chobani's ad implies that even their presence is dangerous. No harm done? Maybe not. But if Chobani can make a six ounce container of yogurt with 100 calories and without additives who needs the additives? Oh, it's not sweet enough for you? Ahhh. That's a topic for a future blog.