In the wake of demands for more transparency with regards to GMO labeling, PepsiCo announced last Friday that it would be labeling its Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice and four brand siblings GMO-free with Non-GMO Project labels. These products represent more than 90 percent of the Tropicana Pure Premium line.
“Tropicana Pure Premium is non-GMO, and it always has been,” Björn Bernemann, vice president and general manager for the Tropicana brand in North America, told the New York Times.
Tropicana orange juice has not had to make any changes to its products to achieve a non-GMO status, as GMO oranges do not yet exist, a fact that caused a certain amount of confusion with regards to responses to a 2012 customer question about GMOs on the company’s Facebook page. The GMO-free status of Tropicana orange juice is, at this time, not a true decision made by the company but rather a given due to the lack of GMO oranges on the market.
Bloomberg News reported in 2013, however, that Tropicana supplier Southern Gardens Citrus was funding research to create an orange plant that resisted a disease called citrus greening by engineering oranges with a spinach gene. The outbreak of citrus greening in 2013 meant that orange juice output in Florida was estimated at 121 million boxes, the lowest level since 1990.
The EPA approved Southern Gardens’ large-scale field testing of the GM citrus in May of this year, allowing for three years of growing on 150 acres in Florida and 50 acres in Texas, the amount of time it will take for the trees to mature and grow viable fruit. This means that as early as 2018, GM citrus could be a reality – all the more reason to pay close attention to Non-GMO Project labels on orange juice in coming years. Richard Kress, president of Southern Gardens, says that 2020 would be a more realistic date for the début of the GM citrus for consumption.
As part of the PepsiCo family, Tropicana is considered one of the biggest opponents of state efforts to impose forced labeling of GMO products. In 2013 and 2014, PepsiCo spent almost $9 million to oppose imposed labeling in certain states, according to research by the Environmental Working Group.
It is possible that the decision to attach the Non-GMO Project label to Tropicana products comes in the wake of lawsuits in 2012 and 2013 that showed that claims that the juices were “natural” and “100% pure” were misleading, as the juice was actually full of chemically engineered flavor packets, added to reconstituted juice that may have been over a year old.
The company's choice to work with the Non-GMO Project, an independent non-profit organization offering the nation’s only third-party verification of non-GMO products, may be an attempt to shake up the image of the juice. It remains to be seen whether the label will still be attached to Tropicana if and when GMO oranges become available.
Other products in the PepsiCo family like Naked Juice, Smartfood and Stacy’s Pita Chips also have Non-GMO Project certification.
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Orange juice image via Shutterstock