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Big Ag Says GMOs are “Natural,” Wants to Be Able to Label Food That Way

Big Ag Says GMOs are “Natural,” Wants to Be Able to Label Food That Way

What does “natural” mean? It shows up on food labels all the time (in fact, it’s one of the most popular food labels), and many of us know that corporations would like us to associate it with holistic, sustainable, environmentally-friendly, healthy methods of food production, processing, and preparation, but what’s really behind that label? If big ag has its way, it’ll open a whole can of worms: the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association wants the FDA to allow foods that contain GMOs to be labeled as “natural.”

The lobbying for this dovetails with a complicated discussion about food labeling and consumer rights, and with growing conflict about GMOs in the food chain. Consumers want to know what’s in their food and how it’s been handled, which is one reason regulatory agencies like the FDA have a series of food labels, and regulate the contents of foods that carry these labels; the organic label, for example, must adhere to a set standard, and if foods sold under that label violate the standard, the manufacturers and producers can be liable.

But what about the “natural” label? The FDA actually swings pretty loose and free with this one. Here’s how it feels about the issue right now: “From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”

If you want to get extremely technical, a large proportion of the food we consume on a regular basis is genetically modified. Almost all commercial crops, as well as the animals raised for food and other animal products, have been modified through selective breeding over hundreds and thousands of years. The domestication of key plant and animal species, in fact, has played a significant role in human culture. Thus, items on your table like corn (bred from a grass that initially produced tiny, useless kernels) and milk (produced by animals refined from dangerous and wild aurochs) are, in a sense, genetically modified.

However, most people thinking of GMOs are thinking specifically of foods that have been altered in a lab environment with the insertion of genetic material to serve a variety of functions, like adding nutritional value, increasing drought tolerance, or helping plants resist herbicides so industrial farmers can apply herbicide products to manage weeds. Some consumers, particularly those concerned about health and wellness, are opposed to the use of GMOs in the food chain, or at least want the opportunity to choose whether they eat them, and labeling laws have been raging in a number of US states.

Some companies proudly label as GMO-free, with varying degrees of certifications, while others, as the GMA illustrates, would very much like to be able to tell consumers that food is “natural” without revealing the presence of GMOs, something some consumers are opposed to. Their petition to the government speaks to the desire to take advantage of the clamor for natural foods, without being attentive to the clear expressed wishes of many consumers in that particular market segment, who have strongly opposed the presence of GMOs in their foods.

Should the FDA decide to seriously consider the petition, it could lead to a lengthy, and complicated, battle. Are genetically modified organisms “natural,” and who should get to decide this? Whether they are or not, don’t consumers have the right to know what’s in their food so they can make their own decisions about what they eat?

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Photo credit: Dricker94.

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183 comments

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7:01PM PST on Jan 4, 2014

Anyone who works at Monsanto from middle management up should be declared a terrorist and executed as a mass murderer.

11:20AM PST on Jan 3, 2014

Everyone wonders how we get sucked into this BS "terms" AND "phrases" that mean very little or nothing at all. PLEASE pay attention to the next vehicle and/or truck ad on TV.

Vehicle (trucks too) brag about the MPG "highway"; which is ALWAYS higher than "city". Now come on, how many of us do most of our driving on the highway rather than the city?

Truck ads brag about "torque". How many of us out here really give a flip or even know what in the world "torque" is about or what it even means?

The same applies to our food products. Natural this and natural that. E-mail the companies and ask them what the term"Natural" mean on their products. Be prepared for an awful lot of BS. Don and WE CAN! :-))

8:14AM PST on Jan 3, 2014

FDA! Your staff are from the Earth aren't they?
Has Uncle Monsanto read you a bed time story this week?

“From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”

All staff at your US FDA, are members of the Monsanto gene pool..
Manufactured in Buckets. Their GMO grey matter, courtesy of the "Lemmus lemmus," and the "Bradypus variegatus."
Bought and paid for, with GMO money...

Stay away Monsanto!!



7:36AM PST on Jan 3, 2014

thanks

7:32AM PST on Jan 3, 2014

Is this a joke? Natural my butt!

6:21AM PST on Jan 3, 2014

noting natural, GMO got to go

5:26AM PST on Jan 3, 2014

Am I stupid? How can a GMO be "natural"? OK, perhaps the process required to produce food for a table is an old, time-honoured process - but the base element is not natural. I object to people changing the meanings of words - I work with words, and realise their importance; I respect them. I do not work in the agricultural world, but I would suggest that the strong desire to label a product as "natural", rather than a "naturally treated GMO crop" smells of deceit. If GMO crops need to be labeled as "natural" simply to sell them, then we are very close to 1994's Ministry of Love rather than Ministry of War. But then I suppose that "Homeland Security" is pretty much the same thing.
If the powers that be are so sure that GMO crops are NOT harmful, why can't they be transparent in their descriptions, and allow the buyers to make up their own minds as to whether or not to buy?.
WE NEED TO STOP DELUDING OURSELVES, AND MUST STOP OTHERS FROM ALLOWING CHANGES TO BE MADE TO OUR VOCABULARY!!!

3:14PM PST on Jan 2, 2014

the word 'Natural', as we all know, means diddley squat. It's either GMO'd or Organic. Thank goodness popcorn is NOT gmo'd. These folks think they're dealing with complete idiots. hmph And where do you find Organic corn OR Organic Corn Oil!!

9:46AM PST on Jan 2, 2014

No words fit for print since people will accept it. Look at all of the new diseases people are getting! Wonder why????

5:19AM PST on Jan 2, 2014

Surely NO ONE is foolish enough to buy anything marked "natural" at this point. Arsenic is "natural" too so should we drink a big ol' glass of it with our lunch? Since this is the USA, we should have accurately labeled food and be free to choose "arsenic" or clean water as we wish. Personally, I'd bet the GMO food would be left to rot as it should.

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