How Do You Know if It's Non-Gmo?

Kashi has a public relations problem. There's a photo circulating on Facebook and various blogs of a grocery store shelf sign on which Kashi’s products used to sit. The sign reads:

You might be wondering where your favorite Kashi cereals have gone. It has recently come to our attention that 100% of the soy used in Kashi products is Genetically Modified, and that when the USDA tested the grains there were found to be pesticides that are known carcinogens and hormone disrupters.

Yesterday, the Cornucopia Institute issued a press release about consumer backlash of Kashi’s “subterfuge.” It led me to take a look at Kashi’s Facebook page, and, wow, are consumers proclaiming their outrage. Here's a peek:

  • Totally disappointed in Kashi! I cant believe that you guys have misled your health conscious customers! I recently learned that you use 100% GM"genetically Modified" soy? Whats up with that! My kids are mad at me now because i took their favorite breakfast away!
  • SHAME ON YOU, KASHI, for dishonest business practices and for failing to inform your customers fully about what is in your products.
  • I will not be buying your products anymore.
  • I have been buying your products for years because they are healthy and delicious. Now I come to find out your food is not so healthy. I ate many of your foods throughout my entire pregnancy, and now feel like a horrible parent and a foolish consumer.

Last fall, the Cornucopia Institute released a report titled Cereal Crimes: How "Natural" Claims Deceive Consumers and Undermine the Organic Label – A Look Down the Cereal and Granola Aisle.In the report, the institute issued a scorecard that rated a company’s use of genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) and toxic pesticides. Kashi was rated among the lowest brands in a category with products that contained “ingredients that are likely produced with toxic pesticides, and could contain genetically engineered and hexane-extracted ingredients (see our cereal residue test results). The 'natural' label on these products is largely meaningless marketing hype.”

Since I received the Cornucopia Institute’s press release yesterday, I’ve been wondering: why do consumers assume that products labeled “natural” or “all-natural” don’t contain GMOs? Where do they get the idea that foods labeled “natural” should be the equivalent of organic food? Marketing deception or subterfuge? Lack of education? Ignoring the “You can’t believe everything you read” mantra? The simple act of not really thinking about it all?

Consumers need to educate themselves about what different front-of-packaging label terms mean. I asked my Facebook friends what they thought the “all-natural” label on foods mean. One of the smartest women I know said this:

Made out of real food. Close to the form in which God originally made it. No weird chemical stuff.

That’s fairly vague, but probably exactly what marketers who stick the “natural” label on food want consumers to believe.

What consumers should understand if they are concerned about their food is this: which label terms are government regulated, which aren’t, and what the definitions of all packaging terms really mean. When a label like “natural” is so ambiguously defined, it should be ignored. Often, consumers simply need to ignore all the front-of-package labels, turn the packages over to the nutrition information and see what’s really there and what really isn’t.

The only way at this point to know for sure if processed, packaged food on the grocery store shelves contain GMOs is to look for organic certification (organics are not allowed to contain GMOs) or to look for the Non-GMO Verified label.

With so many people demanding that the government require companies to label food with GMOs through the Just Label It campaign, companies are beginning to understand that Non-GMO is a selling point. It stands to reason that if a product doesn’t contain GMO’s, those marketing it will want to make sure consumers know that.

So, if it doesn’t indicate GMO-free (and remember organic automatically means GMO-free), more than likely it’s not. Marketers are always going to try to make their products as appealing as possible. Consumers need to ignore marketing hype and look at the actual facts. Those who are outraged at Kashi need to ask themselves, “How can I educate myself so that I’m not fooled by marketing claims again?”