Keeping Food Marketers in Check for Cheeky Labeling



GMO Shredded Wheat trimmed 2When I went to make supper last week, a new label on a product we’ve bought for years caught my attention. The Non-GMO Project Verified label – a label that has been popping up on all kinds of products – was hard to miss. I couldn’t help but review the entire package for claims and started imagining that marketing meeting at Cartelli Foods, the makers of Minute Rice:

The Boss: “Before we adjourn is there any new business”

Slick Marketer: “Yes, actually. I wanted to run a quick idea by everyone.”

“Alright, but make it quick, I’ve got a tee-time”

“I was wondering if we should be more clear about our label.”

“Don’t you think it is pretty clear now? We sell rice. The box says rice.”

“Yes, but I read an internet article about GMOs, and I think we should label our rice as non-GMO.”

“Really? Other than that life-saving Golden Rice that activist groups won’t let anyone approve or grow, there is no such thing as GMO rice anyway.”

“That may be, but if a non-GMO label was on the box and we sold more rice – should we really care whether it is a deceiving label or not?”

“Well I’m late for that tee-time, if I just say yes despite my better judgment – can we end this discussion?”

“Of course – although I wanted to add gluten-free & 100% natural too!”

“But rice doesn’t have gluten either – and the only ingredient is rice – if it isn’t natural what do people think it is?!”

“You’re worrying about the details – think sales!”

“Fine – but Non-GMO, Gluten-Free, 100% Natural Rice is where I draw the line! Meeting adjourned”

GMO Shredded Wheat
(photo by Andrew Campbell)

If only this issue was entertaining. The challenge is we now have this non-GMO label sneaking in to foods that wouldn’t contain it anyway. And for what?

I go back to the Shredded Wheat we have in our cupboard as well. It recently added the Non-GMO Project Verified label to its box, when it too only has one ingredient and it isn’t genetically engineered either. Misleading? You bet it is. So off to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency I went. (The last time I did this, Cactus Club Café ended up changing their claim on how chicken is produced on their menus.) The CFIA has the Voluntary Labelling and Advertising of Foods that are and are not Products of Genetic Engineering standard.

The CFIA touts these standards as the result of stakeholder consultations and do provide some direction in how labels around genetically engineered products (or GMOs as they are more synonymously known) should be addressed. I’ll save you the reading and get to the part that concerns this rice & Shredded Wheat:

6.1.4 Claims that a single-ingredient food is not a product of genetic engineering shall not be made for a single ingredient food of which no genetically engineered strains have been offered for sale, unless accompanied by an explanatory statement, for example, like all other oranges, these oranges are not a product of genetic engineering.

We will start with the Shredded Wheat. I’ve searched the box over four or five times and can’t come up with any statement that references genetic engineering. To me, a clear violation of the standard.

The rice company has been a little more cheeky. Beside the Non-GMO Project Verified label – they point you to the ingredients list which is pretty short: Pre-Cooked Rice.

Then it points you to the line “Rice is not produced using genetic engineering.”

That’s a cheeky line since it doesn’t make any reference to the rest of the industry. Who can blame them anyway. They took up a lot of room adding 100% Natural and Gluten-Free to the label – they likely didn’t have room to add “Like all rice…” in front of their genetic engineering claim.

So here is where we are as a society. Claiming a product is better than the competition, when they are in fact identical. It is driving people away from real knowledge about what it takes to grow food for billions of people around the globe – and instead aims for the short-term gain of a strong corporate quarter.

When will the madness end? It doesn’t look like anytime soon unfortunately – but I’m not going to be an easy customer. From now on – I’m going to do a better job in my role as a consumer on reaching out to organizations like the CFIA  when I see a company taking advantage of an unsuspecting consumer. I think it is a role we can all do a better job of. After all, reaching out to our fellow consumers on production practices is a great start, but keeping the marketing departments in check may also be a full-time job.

I’ve started the next complaint with the CFIA on that box of Shredded Wheat. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Have a question or concern about a food label in Canada? Contact the CFIA here.

Wake up with RealAg

Subscribe to our daily newsletters to keep you up-to-date with our latest coverage every morning.

Wake up with RealAg

Please register to read and comment.


Register for a RealAgriculture account to manage your Shortcut menu instead of the default.