An unnatural food fight is heating up

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1309071_99763674The anti-GMO activists are up in arms (when aren t they?) over the petition by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) to the FDA to allow foods containing GMO ingredients to be labeled as natural. As noted in The New York Times last week, some companies are being sued over their use of the word natural on processed foods that contain chemicals or artificial ingredients.

While an organic certification has an actual definition, the term natural does not at least not yet. But both terms have acquired a health halo, and are seen by many consumers as more desirable than are other foods at least that s what the growth in sales would indicate. So the GMA would like to be able to use the term natural on a wider variety of foods and understandably so.

However, numerous state legislatures are considering whether foods containing GMO ingredients should be so labeled. And Connecticut passed a law making it illegal to use the term natural for any food containing bioengineered ingredients.

One effect of the health halo surrounding organic and non-GMO foods is that some retail outlets are refusing to carry products that might contain GMO ingredients. For example, also last week, Whole Foods announced that it will no longer sell Chobani Greek yogurt because it can t be labeled GMO-free the milk used to make Chobani yogurt comes from cows fed genetically engineered crops. Although how that fact can be construed as meaning that the milk is GMO isn t clear.

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava weighed in on the controversy: I do hope the FDA can come up with a reasonable, scientifically sound definition of what a natural ingredient or food is that is their mandate. It would certainly help take some of the confusion out of the marketplace. But she continued I think the exclusion of GMO ingredients from that definition would be counterproductive. In the case of Chobani yogurt, for example, how in the world would feeding cows a GMO grain affect the nutritional or other value of their milk? That really makes no sense at all.