You may be familiar with the term “greenwashing” –- a term describing the deceptive practice companies use to purposely give off the impression that their products or policies are environmentally friendly, when in fact they aren’t. Greenwashing was first coined in 1986 by an environmentalist named Jay Westerveld, and became popular when the green movement took North America by storm.
Now there’s a new form of deception on the market and Naturally Savvy has a term for it: GENEWASHING. That’s right, you heard it here first!
"Genewashing" is when a company deliberately tries to trick consumers into thinking their products are GMO-free, when in fact they aren’t.
The World Health Organization defines genetically modified foods as foods not occurring naturally. When you turn a corn seed into a pesticide, it's not difficult to see that this is not something natural.
Unlike "organic,” the term "natural" in the U.S. and Canada is not regulated. This means companies can tell you a food is all-natural, which you'll likely assume means no GMOs or artificial ingredients, when in fact there's nothing from preventing the products from containing artificial or genetically modified ingredients.
This is highly misleading genewashing, and savvy consumers have taken several companies to court over use of the term "natural" on foods containing GMOs.
ConAgra faced two class-action lawsuits over calling its Wesson oil natural when it contained GMO ingredients. The same thing happened to Frito-Lay over natural claims on its Sun Chips, and Tropicana's “100% pure and natural” claim. Pepsi's Naked Juice brand was sued over both synthetic and genetically modified ingredients that were marketed as all-natural. As a result, the company settled for $9 million and agreed to remove natural claims from the product packaging.
Several leading cereal brands including Whole Foods Market’s own private label cereals were the focus of an investigative report by the consumer advocacy group, the Cornucopia Institute. According to the group's co-director, Mark Kastel, the food industry is ruthless and very powerful and "out to crush anything that they perceive as their competition or take it over." He told Dr. Joseph Mercola, "local foods, farmer’s markets, organics, raw milk, and fresh marketed, direct farm marketed produce," are viewed as "being a threat" to these giant companies. And for the consumer, that means the big marketing machines of the food industry doing their best genewashing to convince us that their GMO-contaminated foods are anything but.
Below is an example of a product I found at a popular supermarket chain that claims it is "all-natural", but contains canola and soybean oils which are most likely genetically modified, as well as white distilled vinegar, which is made from corn and/or petroleum ingredients.
My passion is vetting healthy products, specifically natural and organic products, and sharing them with all of you. I love finding alternatives to conventional products that contain chemical additives such as The Scary Seven and GMOs. Heck, I love healthy alternatives so much, that I even wrote two books on the topic: Unjunk Your Junk Food: Healthy Alternatives to Conventional Snacks and Label Lessons: Your Guide to a Healthy Shopping Cart (this is a FREE e-book). So, when I started to see misleading GMO labeling appear on grocery store shelves, I knew something had to be done to help educate shoppers looking to make healthy choices.
I try as much as possible to take my kids grocery shopping with me, especially my ten-year-old son. I use our shopping experience as a teaching opportunity to show him how to read labels. Last month, we were shopping for snacks and came across a product that he thought was GMO-free because of the Non-GMO message on the front of the package, but that wasn't the case.
As you can see from the image above, anyone, especially a child, would think this product is GMO-free because of how this company goes out of its way to tell you it is made with Non-GMO grains and vegetables. However, they conveniently left out that it also contains GMO sugar, GMO canola oil and GMO maltodextrin, as well as citric acid.
If this company used non-GMO ingredients for the ingredients highlighted in red above (canola oil, maltodextrin, citric acid and sugar), they would have made sure to tell us like they did for the other ingredients. Shameful.
Below is a picture of the back of the snack bag that my son picked up. Once again, it is easy for anyone to be fooled into thinking this was a Non-GMO product because of how large the words GMO are in the circle with the line going through it.
People are confused enough as it is about labeling when it comes to avoiding unhealthy ingredients, let alone GMOs, which don't even have to be labeled in North America like they do in 64 other countries around the world including Ethiopia, the U.K., Thailand, China, Peru, Australia, and Russia.
A couple of weeks ago I was perusing the aisles of a grocery store when I came across another product that stood out for me. It was Kraft Mayonnaise with Olive Oil.
Being the label inspector that I am, I immediately picked up the bottle. I figured that in addition to olive oil, it would probably contain other unhealthy, and most probably GMO, oils. It did.
It contained both canola and soybean oil. For those who aren't as scrupulous in scrutinizing all labels, they might get misled into buying it thinking it was a healthy choice. I wouldn't blame them. At first glance it does look like a good choice. It is only when you dig deeper that you realize it fails the healthy product test. Badly.
If you‘re a frequent visitor to our site or follow us on social media, you already know our stance on GMOs. We are passionate about healthy living and GMOs are a huge part of our educational platform. And we’re not the only ones passionate about this issue! I have been working in the natural health industry for almost fifteen years and I haven’t seen anything have as big of an online impact since the green movement back in the mid-2000s.
With experts like Jeffrey Smith, Dr. Joseph Mercola, and Rachel Parent leading the way for this change alongside organizations like The Institute for Responsible Technology, The Cornucopia Institute, and The Non-GMO Project, and states including Oregon, Maine and Connecticut taking a stand with GMO labeling laws, we’re slowly seeing change take hold. However, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Our goal with The Scary Seven was to make it easier for people to make healthy choices when shopping for groceries. Each of The Scary Seven ingredients are clearly written on a food label, and in such cases where it isn't as clear, like with MSG, we provide a list of the hidden names of MSG to watch out for. GMOs are not currently listed as one of our Scary Seven ingredients because they are not clearly identified on a label. However, we urge people to avoid them as much as possible by learning which ingredients are most likely to be GMOs. They are on our Also Beware Of chart, which you can find here.
Are you being fooled by genewashing?
Now more than ever, we all need to be diligent about reading labels and letting companies know that we're on to their marketing schemes and genewashing.
Do you see any genewashing going on in your marketplace? Send us your photos and we'll share them with our readers.
Images: Bruce Stockwell (top), Naturally Savvy (remainder)
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