One of the Biggest Food Industry Opponents to Labeling Laws Prepares Non-GMO Label
If you’re the kind of consumer who avoids GMOs at the grocery store, you’re about to get some help making more informed shopping decisions from an unlikely party: PepsiCo.
Early next year, the label from the Non-GMO Project, the largest third-party verification program of GMO-free foods out there, will be featured on Tropicana Pure Premium orange juices and a number of other products. PepsiCo, Tropicana’s parent company, has spent $9 million campaigning against state-level mandatory labeling laws, according to the advocacy group Just Label It, and another $11 million lobbying for a federal bill that would preempt local labeling laws and create a voluntary labeling program for GMO-free foods. Critics are crying irony, saying that company only wants to label foods when it’s to its advantage.
While Tropicana won’t be the first PepsiCo brand to have its products verified as GMO-free by a third party—Naked Juice bottles already bear a Non-GMO Project label—it is the largest. And then there’s this: Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice is already billed as being 100 percent pure orange juice, with “16 fresh-picked oranges squeezed into each 59-oz. container.” No matter where the company is buying those oranges from, there is zero chance that they are genetically modified, as GMO oranges have not been approved for commercial production. (Trees that have been made resistant to citrus greening with the help of a spinach gene, which could devastate the U.S. industry, are in field trials.)
“PepsiCo’s latest PR stunt shows why there must be a national, mandatory standard for the disclosure of GMO foods and ingredients,” Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It, said in a statement. “Labeling that is done only at the whim of companies and only on a handful of products as part of a marketing ploy shows a blatant disregard for consumer choice.”
Labeling a product that cannot be GMO as non-GMO would appear to take advantage of both consumer fears about genetically engineered foods—as unfounded as they may be—and the willingness of some people to pay a higher price for a seemingly better, safer, more ethical product.
Björn Bernemann, Tropicana’s vice president and general manager for North America, explained the decision by telling The New York Times, “Consumers today have a desire for transparency from brands, and that desire is only going to increase.” He also noted that Tropicana Pure Premium products have never contained GMOs—so the only thing that’s new is that the company is now marketing that fact.
If the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act—which opponents have labeled the DARK Act—ends up becoming law (the Senate still needs to pass it, and the president would have to sign it), the Tropicana scenario could very well become the status quo for GMO labeling in the U.S. That’s because in addition to superseding state-level labeling laws, the bill would require the Food and Drug Administration to develop standards for a federal GMO-free label—and companies would be free to pick and choose which products they use it for.