Why Did Smucker's Put a Non-Gmo Label on Its Peanut Butter?

It's really tiny, but Smucker's has voluntarily added GMO information to its peanut butter. (Photo: Robin Shreeves)

While scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning, I noticed a post by Robyn O'Brien with a photo of a peanut butter jar in it. She had circled some small words at the bottom of the back label, "Made without genetically modified ingredients. Trace amounts of genetically modified material may be present." *

"That label looks familiar," I thought. Sure enough, it was the same peanut butter I have in my refrigerator. (The photo above is from the jar at my house.) I've never noticed it, so I'm not sure when Smucker's added the GMO information to its Natural Creamy Peanut Butter label.

But to the best of my knowledge, there are no commercial genetically modified peanuts. Smucker's can't make a peanut butter with GMO peanuts. Putting this note on the label is similar to putting a "hormone-free" label on chicken. Chickens can't legally be given artificial hormones in the United States, so all chicken is free of artificial hormones. The chicken label is purely for marketing purposes, and I would guess the "made without genetically modified ingredients" label on the peanut butter is for marketing, too.

Food companies are aware that consumers want to know what's in their food, and if the average person doesn't realize there are no commercially available GMO peanuts, they may see the Smucker's label and choose this peanut butter over another brand. From a marketing perspective, it seems like a smart move, but it also begs a question:

Why hasn't the price of Smucker's Natural Creamy Peanut Butter increased?

Let me explain. One of the arguments against labeling is that changing labels will be costly and the cost will be passed on to the consumer. It's worth noting that the J.M. Smucker Company has donated well over $1 million to fighting GMO labeling bills, according to Just Label It.

If Smucker's can add non-GMO information to its labels without increasing the cost, can it add GMO information without increasing the cost, too? Can other food manufacturers do the same? That may be an oversimplification, but it's worth asking: Are food manufacturers trying to scare consumers into opposing labeling with misleading information?

* About those trace amounts

I was curious why there could be trace amounts of GMO ingredients if neither the peanuts or the salt were genetically modified. One reason could be because the peanut butter is made in a plant that processes other ingredients that are genetically modified.

I researched a little further and found some interesting additional information on the Environmental Working Group's website. Peanuts are a crop that often gets rotated with cotton, and cotton can be genetically modified. So it's possible the label mentions trace amounts of GMO ingredients because the peanuts were grown in the same soil as the genetically modified crop.