GMOs in your food – a matter of interpretation?

Words are tricky business. We use them to communicate ideas, to learn from each other, to make promises and hold each other to them. We use them to learn and share information, to get to the truth.

Those are just some of the ways we use words for good in the world. But unfortunately, they can also be used to manipulate, to play tricks, and to deceive. And that’s just what the food industry has been doing to us for decades.

Just look at the words used to advertise the unhealthiest of products: soda. Coca-Cola, for example, uses taglines better suited for a health food than a chemical-laden beverage responsible for countless cases of obesity and diabetes.

“Make it Real”? Really? For 12 ounces of artificial ingredients? “Coke Adds Life”? Ha! Now that’s about as deceitful a use of words as I can imagine.

You would think that truth in advertising laws would prevent this kind of deception. But unfortunately our government continues to pave the way for food giants to use words to pull one over on the American public.

Take the trans-fat fiasco, for instance. After decades of allowing foods filled with trans-fats — which have been known for years to clog arteries and increase heart disease risk — to line our shelves, our government finally banned them. Only in response to overwhelming public outcry, of course.

But even then, the government didn’t have our backs. They allowed food manufacturers to claim their foods were free of trans fats…even when they weren’t! As long as a serving had 0.5 grams or less, it could be advertised as having “zero grams of trans fats.”

Research has found trans fats to be unsafe in any amount. That’s from a statement issued by the Institute of Medicine. Hardly a fringe group sounding an alarm. And yet our government doesn’t just allow trans fats to continue to sneak into our foods — it also allows food manufacturers to blatantly lie about the trans fat content of their products in order to deceive us into believing we’re avoiding them.

Now we’re seeing the same deception unfold with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). As I’ve said before, we don’t have a clear picture of the health effects of GMOs. And yet our government has allowed them to flood our food supply. Without testing.

It’s a great experiment, and we’re the lab rats.

Fortunately, some of us have wised up over the years. And we know that we need to be our own advocates when it comes to keeping our best interests — not those of the food industry — front and center.

That’s why a California woman brought a lawsuit against the fast food chain Chipotle for falsely advertising itself as not serving GMO foods.

As it turns out, the meat and dairy it serves comes from animals raised on GMO feeds. Plus, the chain serves soda that’s filled with sweeteners from GMO corn. So, according to the plaintiff, Chipotle was engaging in “false, misleading, and deceptive” practices.

Makes sense to me. I mean, how can they claim to be GMO-free when there are clearly GMO ingredients throughout their menu…and right there in their beverage dispensers!

But the judge didn’t see it that way. He dismissed the suit, chalking it all up to different interpretations of the same words. The plaintiff’s interpretation of non-GMO, he said, was too strict. Not one that “reasonable people” would share.

Excuse me?

I don’t know about you, but when a company tells me they’re not serving me GMO foods, I take that to mean that there are no GMOs in anything they’re serving me.

It’s a simple question, and it deserves a straightforward answer. But when we ask for that, not only does the company deceive us, but our government backs them up.

I’m not picking on Chipotle here by any means. I’m just pointing out that this case shows that non-GMO claims made by different manufacturers don’t necessarily mean anything. They may just be open to interpretation, as the judge in this case decided.

Some dairy companies, for example, market their products as non-GMO because there are no genetically modified ingredients in the package. However, they may still use milk from animals fed GMO feed.

In the absence of an accepted legal definition of “non-GMO,” the bills in the works calling for mandatory GMO labeling in the United States may be ineffective. As it stands, they would not require GM labels on meat or dairy from animals fed GM feed, or on products made with GMOs used in processing.

Even the strict state law that went into effect in Vermont earlier this year won’t protect the state’s residents, thanks to the US government. That’s because a federal act, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act 2015, which passed in the House of Representatives last year, would pre-empt state laws that mandate GMO labeling and set up a federal voluntary labeling system instead.

Again, our government is intervening on behalf of the food industry. Is it unreasonable to expect that our government not side with big business over the health of its citizens? I certainly don’t think so.