Two class action suits, one filed in New York and the second in California, challenge the labeling of ConAgra Foods Inc.’s line of Wesson cooking oil which proclaims to be “pure” and “100% natural” despite the fact, the complaints allege, that it was derived from genetically modified plants and organisms.
Last time we checked, nature did not make corn that carries genes from the Bacillus thuringiensis bacterium that is poisonous to insect pests in the corn genome, a view shared by plaintiffs in these lawsuits.
In a conversation with GMO Journal, plaintiffs’ attorney in the California case, Andrei V. Rado, stated that ConAgra’s claims of its oils being “pure” and “100% natural” are likely to deceive consumers because the oils contain ingredients made from genetically modified plants, which, even according to industry definitions, are not natural.
Monsanto defines GMOs, the California complaint states, as follows:
Plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs. In general, genes are taken (copied) from one organism that shows a desired trait and transferred into the genetic code of another organism. (emphasis in the original).
Similarly, the California complaint alleges that Romer Labs, a company that provides diagnostic solutions, defines GMOs as follows:
Agriculturally important plants are often genetically modified by the insertion of DNA material from outside the organism into the plant’s DNA sequence, allowing the plant to express novel traits that normally would not appear in nature, such as herbicide or insect resistance. Seed harvested from GMO plants will also contain these modification. (emphasis in the original).
Even the World Health Organization, the California complaint provides, defines GMOs as follows:
[O]rganisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. The technology is often called “modern biotechnology” or “gene technology”, sometimes also “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering”. It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species. (emphasis in the original).
“The Wesson Oils labels obviously are intended to evoke a natural, wholesome product,” the California complaint alleges, while the oils are in fact made from ingredients that most people would not associate as being made or found in nature and are in fact “created” artificially in a laboratory setting through genetic engineering. “ConAgra’s Wesson Oils are not natural, much less “100% Natural.” Advertising Wesson Oils as natural is deceptive and likely to mislead the public.”
In addition to monetary damages sought by both suits, the California case also seeks an order “requiring Defendant to adopt and enforce a policy that requires appropriate disclosure of GM ingredients and/or removal of misleading natural claims, which complies with California law.”
According to Mr. Rado, it will take some time before a resolution will be reached. In the meantime, as the cases wade their way through the court system, a project created by consumer advocate group Organic Consumer Association, Million Against Monsanto, is seeking to organize consumers around the country around the idea of labeling GMOs and foods produced in factory farms (aka CAFOs). “Then, once we reach a critical mass in our local efforts, we can mount a grassroots lobbying campaign to pass mandatory GMO (and CAFO) labeling laws, at the city, county, and state levels.”