The Whole Foods-Chobani Episode: The Whole Truth?

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When Whole Foods recently decided to discontinue carrying Chobani Greek yogurt, the first news reports attributed this to Whole Foods’ decision to eliminate GM products from their stores. But now, another reason has emerged. Whole Foods, it is argued, wants to reap larger profits from the current Greek yogurt frenzy by introducing their own version of it; a “private label”, apparently, is the term although I always thought of it simply as “store brand” ,the plain cousin of the glamorous big brands but just as good and a boon for a mother on a budget! So the issue of GMO/Organic was simply not relevant here.

This comes just after another GMO vs Organic issue which grabbed the headlines: “Organic Milk Better for You” the media announced quoting a study which found higher levels of omega 3 in certain types of milk. Read a little deeper and you will find that the real cause of higher levels of fat in the milk was determined by the what the cows ate. Grass fed cows produced milk with higher levels of  omega 3. Is this true for all organic milk? Well, it depends. It turns out that cows can be fed grass for only 4 months a year and still qualify for the organic label. Are they living on fresh air the rest of the year? No they are eating feed which would mostly consist of corn. So technically, it seems, you could have a cow feed partly on GMO corn  and partly on pasture and that cow would have healthier levels of omega 3 because it was grass fed, organic feed is not the determinant here.  So next time you think about paying the steep price of organic milk because you think it will be better for your children, remember that in this case “from grass fed cows” would really be the label you need to see.

This kind of smudging of facts is not uncommon in the charged discussions on GMO foods, but then I found something that went beyond mere dancing with words. Consider this label:

IMG_0005The label says “NON GMO Project VERIFIED” . So, what is n0n-GMO here? The potatoes? salt? pepper? Genetically modified potatoes are not a part of the food supply of any country on the planet. It is not possible for me to enjoy a genetically modified potato chip even if I was craving it, so why this label?  Perhaps in the hope that the consumer who hears a lot of fear mongering on this issue and, without actually checking on the particular details in the midst of a grocery run, will make a decision to buy this product instead of another.

From all the studies and research that I have followed so far, there appear to be no safety issues with GMO foods so there seems no reason to slap on what is tantamount to a warning label. But faced with the argument that no label indicates something is being hidden, I would advocate labeling because this is only one variable influencing the consumer’s decision to buy; and price is, I think, the variable that carries the greatest weight in that decision making process. But the real troubling issue here is how labeling can be subverted so that the concerns that are supposedly being met here (health, food safety etc) are simply a facade for the drive toward higher profits.

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5 responses to “The Whole Foods-Chobani Episode: The Whole Truth?

  1. I’m gestating a post about the GM potato called Amflora. It’s not being grown anywhere since it was withdrawn by BASF who made it, but for a while it was licenced to be grown here in Europe. Its main product would have been amylopectin for industrial use, but a by-product would have been potato pulp. That pulp could have been used in processed food and feed.

  2. Pingback: Labelling GMOs: The Whole Food Debate | Science on the Land

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