Some Brands Are Labeling Products “GMO-free” Even if They Don’t Have Genes

More companies are paying to label their food as non-GMO, whether they need it or not.

gmo labels
Tony Webster, via Flickr

It seems unneccessary for salt to be advertised as “GMO-free.” After all, it’s awfully hard to genetically modify salt because it has no genes. Nevertheless, last year the Austin, Texas-based Evolution Salt Co. added a label declaring its products to be GMO-free.

As the company’s owner, Hayden Nasir, tells Ilan Brat for The Wall Street Journal, if his salt is shelved next to one that “doesn’t say non-GMO on it, chances are somebody will bypass that.”

After decades of love affairs with processed food, many Americans are becoming more and more concerned with what goes into their meals. But despite there being little to no scientific evidence indicating that genetically modified organisms are bad for your health, the number of companies paying to have their food certified as GMO-free is skyrocketing, whether they need it or not, Brat writes.

In part, this is all about marketing. For some companies, like Chipotle, Ben & Jerry’s and Cheerios, declaring their food to be GMO-free could be seen as a good way to get a foothold in a rapidly growing market. Sales of products labeled as non-GMO have grown 30 percent to $1.1 billion in the last year alone, Brat writes.

However, as with labeling something “organic” or “free-range,” the GMO-free label presents its own set of problems, the first being that there just aren’t that many foods that have genetically-engineered alternatives. According to regulations set by the United States Department of Agriculture, there are only eight commercially-available crops that can be genetically modified: soybeans, corn, alfalfa, papaya, canola, cotton, sugar beets and summer squash. But few of these crops make it to supermarket shelves, being reserved mostly for animal feed and vegetable oils, Nick Rose writes for Vice Munchies.

The only organization that can give food the GMO-free stamp is The Non-GMO Project, a non-profit company that is dedicated to “preserving and building the non-GMO food supply, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choice.” For a fee, the company will certify a food product as either GMO-free, or being at high or low risk for genetically modified ingredients somewhere along the supply chain. Over the last two years, the organization has registered a substantial jump in the number of fruit and vegetable vendors who want their produce certified, whether there is a GMO variety to compete with or not, Brat writes

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.