Brands Are Putting 'GMO-Free' Labels on Products That Don't Even Have Genes

While there may be healthy skepticism surrounding the safety of genetically modified foods, producers are being forced to use "GMO-free" labels when they don't even need them.

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Aug 24 2015, 7:15pm

Photo via US Department of Agriculture

You can now buy salt that is labeled "GMO-free." The only problem with this claim is that in order for something to be genetically modified, there has to be genetic information in the product to begin with.

And salt has no genes—it's basically a rock.

While the idea of "Frankenstein food" with genetic code designed by humans in labs may seem disturbing on the surface, there is still no solid evidence of GMOs being detrimental to human health and some researchers argue that the altered organisms can actually provide a sustainable source of food in a world of finite resources and growing population.

READ MORE: We Need to Re-Evaluate Our Stigma Towards Genetically Modified Meat

Yet, the Wall Street Journal reports that the amount of companies asking for "GMO-free"' certification for their products is skyrocketing, as producers feel the need to rebrand their products in order to sell to wary consumers. Like "organic" and "free-range" certifications before it, GMO labeling has become a huge selling point to consumers who are bombarded with news and research about how evil corporations are pumping harmful chemicals into our food.

The problem is that most foods don't even have a genetically modified variant. Under current United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulation, very few crops are genetically modified, and only eight are commercially available: corn, soybeans, alfalfa, papaya, summer squash, sugar beets, cotton, and canola. On top of that, most of these products don't even end up in human mouths, and are instead used for vegetable oils and animal food.

And of course, there's money involved. If a company wants to flaunt their dedication to the fight against genetically modified food, they have to a pay an organization called the Non-GMO Project, which is committed to "preserving and building the non-GMO food supply, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choice." In return, the Non-GMO Project will label them "GMO-free" or "high-risk/low-risk" GMO foods.

As North America's only third-party verification and labeling of non-GMO food, they are wielding more and more power. This is in large part because consumers appear to be taking this label pretty seriously, with annual sales of Non-GMO-labelled produce growing 30 percent to $1.1 billion in the last year alone.

As the WSJ notes, even companies that produce goods for which no GMO variants exists—like garden seeds and salt—have to jump on the bandwagon for fear that consumers will favor competitors who has the "GMO-free" label.

While there may be healthy skepticism surrounding the safety of genetically modified foods, the judgement of consumers could be hurting the producers who don't even have the ability to use them.