Can We Trust Big Food Brands Even if They’re Going GMO-Free?


In the latest efforts to revive flat sales, big food brands are doing the almost unthinkable: they’re dropping genetically modified ingredients from their products.

Ben & Jerry’s recently made the announcement that it was transitioning to non-GMO ingredients; General Mills’ and Post kicked off 2014 with similar announcements for their top selling cereal brands, Cheerios and Grape-Nuts. Walmart and Target have both boosted representation of organic foods in their stores, hoping the higher ticket items will be embraced by current customers and even draw in the dedicated organic shopper.

“Right now, non-GMO food fetches a premium,” reports NPR. “Purdue University agricultural economist Chris Hurt says that premium is likely to come down if this part of the agricultural sector gains more traction and an efficiency of scale can kick in.”

NPR reports that the Non-GMO Project, which is the main certifying body for the non-GMO movement, has certified more than 20,000 products since 2007, and there’s more interest from big food brands than ever before. But should we be swayed by these efforts?

“Ben & Jerry’s, so vocal in its anti-GMO stance, has a conflict, of sorts,” explains NPR. “It may have eliminated GMOs, but it’s still owned by Unilever, which put a lot of money toward fighting labeling legislation in California and belongs to the [Grocery Manufacturer’s Association].”

And other brands have similar issues—Post and General Mills are members of the GMA, but even if they weren’t, there are other reasons to be wary of throwing support behind big food brands. For one, we’re talking highly processed foods often loaded down with excess sugar, salt and preservatives.

Across the board, Big Food has been guilty of misrepresenting products as natural when products often contain artificial ingredients. Even Whole Foods is feeling the pinch on this one.

Chipotle, the eco-minded darling of fast food received praise for removing GMOs from all but two items on its menu this year. (It says it’s still working on the tortillas.) But at the end of the day, it’s still fast food, encouraging us to skip a home-cooked meal.

If Big Food brands can learn anything from America’s growing interest in GMO-free and organic options, it’s that “the consumer is king,” notes NPR. For some customers, all they want is just better access to fresher fare and healthier ingredients. For others, it’s commitments to the environment, fair wages for farm, factory and retail workers, and for others its the absence of chemicals—be those pesticides or artificial ingredients in the finished products. But it seems the common denominator here is that consumers all want more out of their food these days, whether or not its coming from Big Food doesn’t seem to matter so much anymore as long as it’s Better Food.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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