Monday, January 13, 2014

Buyer Beware

Suppose some crackpot doctor published an article saying that any food with a special purple powder mixed in was significantly healthier.  Then a “mom and activist” took up the crusade, spreading the word on social media.  Do you think any large food companies would take this seriously?  You bet they would!  That purple powder would start finding its way into foods of every size, shape and description.

Proof of that is here in a posting on the NBC News website.  General Mills is changing Cheerios to be able to advertise it as a non-genetically modified product – non-GMO.  Why would they do this?  On the surface it makes no sense.

First, Cheerios has very little genetically modified content.  “Oats, the main ingredient, aren’t a genetically modified crop.”  Only a few minor ingredients, sugar and cornstarch are.  It is a very minor change.

Second, both the FDA and the World Health Organization confirm that all today’s General Mills products are safe.  “Using a science-based approach, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates foods and ingredients made from genetically engineered plants to help ensure that they are safe to eat.”  (Note that the FDA uses the term genetically engineered (GE) rather than GMO because “people have been modifying plants for thousands of years through breeding and selection.”

The General Mills decision is all about marketing, not science.  They recognize the spread of misinformation and the resulting anxiety of consumers with 55% concerned about GMO today compared to 10% in 2002.  “Industry experts say the anti-GMO push is similar to the gluten-free craze” – note the label of craze.

“I think it's totally a marketing move,” said David Just, professor of applied economics and director of the Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. “They’re playing to an audience that, sort of bluntly, has an irrational fear of GMOs,” he said.

The obvious answer to why General Mills is doing this is that they are in the business of selling Cheerios.  They don’t care if your ideas are right or wrong.  The same goes for Chipotle, Whole Foods Market, and any other retailer or manufacturer who latch on to GMO or gluten-free or all-natural or any other craze.  They have no interest in educating the public and will use any misconception to promote a product.  JC Penney, for example, almost went out of business trying to sell goods at a low price instead of artificially marking them down from a higher price and calling it a sale.  Consumers didn’t get it!  They wanted to buy things that were on sale.  Likewise, just because more products are going to non-GMO labeling is no assurance that fears of GMO are in any way justified.  They don’t care about science or logic.  They care about getting our money.

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