The “alternative” and “organic” food makers are to my mind very innovative. Nature’s Path is a good example. Instead of straight corn flakes, they offer a flake blend that is corn, flax and amaranth. Yummy. Instead of just raisin bran, they have products like Pumpkin Raisin Crunch which has wheat flakes, oats, pumpkin seeds, raisins and just a hint of sweeteners and seasoning. It’s not just wheat and sugar tasting. But unfortunately, the alternative brands tend to also believe in and advertise ideas that I find wrong. Most just make exaggerated statements about health benefits of organic or specific nutrients. Most are also at least somewhat anti-GMO albeit often it seems primarily for marketing reasons. Nature’s Path however is actively anti-GMO and spreading scary misinformation about GMO foods. For that I am going to give up two of my favorite cereals. It’s not really a hardship, but it takes a lot for me to feel a company is so odious I can’t buy a product I like.
Still, you might say: so, what? It’s just cereal. And actually, normally I would just let it go because it is just cereal and I’m not going to buy boring cereal I don’t like just to avoid giving money to support ideas I don’t like. It’s not like the people who run General Mills probably don’t also believe things I disagree with. But Nature’s Path has specifically endorsed the wildest and most harmful ideas about transgenic foods — that GMO products are basically poison forced on us by an evil and complicit regulatory system to allow evil companies to impose their deadly products on farmers and unsuspecting consumers.
To drive home just how wrong Nature’s Path is about GMOs, they retweeted an endorsement of the Genetic Roulette movie this week. This film was made by a non-scientist and is full of unscientific and absurd claims. The book upon which it’s based has been thoroughly debunked. According to the film makers, GMOs may be the cause of increased incidence of cancers, autism, allergies and more. There is little evidence for the first1 and none for the rest. It is pure speculation with no explanation as to mechanism. One could just as easily claim that watching the Dr. Oz program has those effects. Like most anti-GMO activist material, it unscientifically groups all products they consider GMOs together. Roundup Ready soy is the same as Bt corn or the Arctic Apple despite very different traits and use patterns. Recommending that movie is not simply spreading different points of view or encouraging conversation about food production. It is actively misinforming your supporters.
But there has to be a balance here. I still believe that conventional, mainstream agriculture is largely more harmful than it needs to be. Moreover, the kinds of products that my local co-op or Whole Foods sells are gustatorially more interesting to me (and ethically more appropriate for me) than most of what Safeway carries. The Safeway doesn’t even carry eggs I would buy, for example2, much less a variety of awesome olives or beans in bulk. To their credit, while Whole Foods supports the Non-GMO Project their support seems much more calculated. They know their market segment largely believes GMOs are bad so they have to appeal to that. While I might wish they would try to educate their customers and perhaps sell Arctic Apples when they arrive (reducing food waste seems in line with organic ideals), it is perhaps too much for me to expect.
So I won’t be boycotting every product produced by people who announce their non-GMO position. But I can’t in good conscience support a company that would endorse such actively harmful ideas about agriculture as Nature’s Path has. Not everyone has access to or can afford organic or non-GMO products. Telling people that their only choice of conventional, likely GMO, food is dangerous to them — when they most clearly are not3 — is immoral. Moreover, encouraging people to believe false ideas about GMOs encourages people to believe projects like Golden Rice are also harmful. Nature’s Path is actively trying to scare people with lies about modern food. There is a line to the ethical compromises I make with modern capitalism and whether I should or should not buy from people who say odious things. And Nature’s Path crossed it.
- The “little evidence” here is because there are some studies that seem to show evidence. However, like a recent study that has been roundly criticized, research showing harmful effects of GMO crops are at worst poorly done and at best unreplicated. However, I can’t actually say “no evidence” since those studies do exist, but they don’t represent a broader scientific assessment. ↩
- I prefer to buy eggs that are from hens that probably aren’t mistreated. Even mainstream “organic” or “free range” labeled eggs are likely from hens kept in tight quarters or having had their beaks clipped. Probably I should give up eggs, but I like them. So intead I buy ones I think are less likely to be awful. ↩
- I am particularly saddened that people believe ingredients like GMO soy or corn oil or GMO-derived citric acid could harm them. Purified oils are, assuming they come from similar source crops, basically identical. If you took Bt corn and then took its non-Bt sibling (that is identical except for the Bt trait) and made oil using modern processes, you would not be able to tell the difference. For additives like citric acid, it’s even worse. Those are very simple chemicals. Belief that GMO corn origin citric acid is any different than any other purified citric acid is basically identical to belief in homeopathy. ↩