The following is an excerpt of an Op-Ed by registered dietitian nutritionist Neva Cochran for the Houston Chronicle about how she disagrees with Whole Foods' GMO labeling tactics.
Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods has brought immediate changes to the Texas-based grocery chain, such as lower prices and selling Amazon tech products on supermarket shelves.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist and nearly native Texan, I have an idea for Amazon to help Whole Foods’ customers as much as lower prices and more items in its stores: Take a closer look at how it markets products to customers and consider doing so in a more honest, less confusing way.
Consumers are so bombarded with food and nutrition hype on the internet that they are confused about the safety, healthfulness and nutritional contributions of many foods and ingredients. With a plethora of absence claims on food labels and shelf tags — gluten-free, non-GMO, sugar-free, no added hormones, no artificial ingredients, antibiotic-free — fear-based marketing seems to have become the preferred way to sell a product.
Looking closer, “gluten-free” is a perfect example of a claim that has not only led to avoidance of the only foods with gluten (wheat, barley and rye) but also become a marketing tool for foods that do not and never have contained gluten. “Gluten-free” is plastered on products and supermarket shelf tags from green beans to butter to tea bags.
The fact is, less than 1 percent of the U.S. population has celiac disease, a condition that requires strict gluten avoidance, and up to 6 percent more may have a nonceliac gluten sensitivity. Yet more than 30 percent of people avoid gluten. Wheat provides an array of nutrients including fiber, minerals, B vitamins, antioxidants and prebiotics as well as most of the folic acid in the U.S. diet, a nutrient especially important in helping prevent birth defects during pregnancy. A study found by eating folic acid-fortified grain products, 77 percent of low-income women could consume adequate folic acid, which is often not taken as a supplement due to cost.
Likewise, labeling chicken with “no added hormones” is a marketing ploy that promotes fear implying that a chicken without this label contains added hormones. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibits hormone use in raising hogs or poultry. Therefore, the claim “no added hormones” cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless a statement follows it reading, “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”
Then there are “antibiotic-free” claims on milk and dairy products. Again, this is fear mongering to sell a product, not protect health. Milk with any antibiotic residue cannot be sold for human consumption in the U.S.. Milk is tested several times at the farm and processing plant to ensure there are no antibiotics.
Finally, there are non-GMO claims, which imply that foods produced through GMO agriculture are not safe or healthful. The fact is GMO foods are perfectly safe to eat. The 2016 National Academy of Sciences report, “Genetically Modified Crops,” examined over 1,000 research and other publications and concluded there was no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between commercially available GMO and conventional crops.
There are only 10 approved GMO crops currently in the United States: field and sweet corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, squash, potatoes and apples But you will find non-GMO labels on items ranging from salt, vodka and orange juice to cat litter.
To read the entire blog post, please visit the Houston Chronicle.