The End Of GMOs Could Come From Lawsuits

The labeling of food products that contain genetically modified ingredients is obviously a contentious issus: here in California we took to the polls to vote on it, and we were divided nearly fifty-fifty one the issue; the same fight is currently raging in Washington state.

Monsanto and its GMO cohort have very deep pockets, though, making it relatively easy for them to both defeat any ballot measures that would require labeling and maintain a very powerful lobbyist group in D.C. Even incidents that would seem on first glance to be major upsets don't hurt Monsanto's bottom line too much: they've given up trying to grow GM crops in Europe, but they'll still be growing non-GMO crops there and importing genetically modified crops grown elsewhere for use across Europe.

But there's a whole other group involved in the GMO debate that has a lot more to lose if the battle doesn't go their way.


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Food companies are more directly accountable consumers because their products are there on the grocery store shelves -- a part of our daily lives. And when they lose money in lawsuits, they feel the pain a lot more than the actual inventors of GMOs ever will.

A "natural foods" company owned by Weetabix, Barbara's Bakery, recently settled a $4 million lawsuit rather than try to publicly argue in court that their use of the phrase "all-natural" wasn't misleading. Their products, like the Puffins cereal line, has been a mainstay of health food stores for decades. But they use GMO ingredients.

Naked Juice (which is owned by Pepsi), chose to fight their battle in court, arguing that GM ingredients fit under the "all-natural" umbrella. They'll now have to pay out $9 million to consumers. Crisco and Frito-Lay are both in the middle of similar lawsuits, while the judge handling Mission tortillas case told the FDA to just define "natural" already -- she can't decide if the company was being misleading until the word is defined.

Now, as an aside: if you've been buying products because they say "natural" on them, and you think that means anything, anything at all, I have a bridge to sell you. So do a lot of other people, too. It's incumbent upon us as consumers to understand what labels are really saying, and at this point, "natural" indicates absolutely nothing.

But, food companies will, apparently, keep using it until they're picked off by class-action lawsuits, one by one, losing millions of dollars when just pre-emptively changing their labels would've cost only thousands. Or maybe some companies that haven't been sued yet will get smart and either buy different ingredients or decide to be forthcoming with their labeling.

Either way, using genetically modified ingredients, and being deceitful about it, is going to start costing food companies more money that it's worth. And that's where the real power to eliminate Monsanto's work will come from.

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About the Author

Katherine's role as the Living editor at KCET.org keeps her running from farms to markets to restaurants to pop-up swaps all over SoCal. She's been living in and writing about this area for over a decade.
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