“100% Natural” GMO Ingredients Challenged In Lawsuits

Wesson Corn Oil

Wesson Corn Oil

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.”

  • Valentine Dyall

    Somebody is choosing to play with words. Everything within the bounds of nature is of necessity “natural”. We ourselves are products of nature and what we do is thus inevitably natural; it is certainly not unnatural or supernatural. It is no argument to say that some things like GMOs did not occur before we evolved. They did and they do: there is ever-increasing evidence that genes move between species quite independently of us although we have recently learned how to make them do so more quickly and in directions we prefer. Criticism of ConAgra Foods Inc.’s line of Wesson cooking oil being labeled “natural” is therefore senseless on the ground made in the report. But such a label is redundant because every cooking oils – as everything else on this Earth of ours and beyond throughout the universe – is equally natural. So, you plaintiffs, think about what words actually mean before you bring class actions. And as for ConAgra Foods: use more informative and relevant words to describe the benefits of their products.

  • GG

    Words like ‘pure’ and ’100% natural’ should have well-defined meanings and to abuse them is to whitewash. And contrary to Valentine’s point, if GMOs would be natural, then companies wouldn’t be able to patent them. These are technological inventions.

  • Valentine Dyall

    GG should note that the companies do not patent the GMOs themselves, or the genes transferred to them, but the “events”, the technology that enables them to do so. Since all human activity is natural (i.e. within the bounds of nature), you could argue that nothing should be patentable. But we have decided decades, if not centuries, ago that patenting is useful for commercial development and that criteria for patenting should include novelty, utility and a lack of obviousness. The patentable technological inventions in the case of GMOs are the precise methods used. As I have indicated already, these are as “natural” as anything else in nature. GG would have no difficulty defining “100% natural” though it would tell you nothing of interest since, once more, everything in nature is 100% natural; “pure” is something else again!

  • GG

    “All natural” implies existing or being created in nature, as opposed to something “artificial” like GMOs. Plus, the last comment only supports my view. Since everything is just so natural and pure, then nothing should be labelled as such. By this measure, all crops are natural even if bathed in industrial pesticides, all water is pure in a polluted river, and, surely, all genetically modified ingredients are naturally wholesome.

  • Valentine Dyall

    Good, GG: you have finally understood. Indeed, “all crops are natural even if bathed in industrial pesticides….” because industry is natural, too, natural to us. You just need another word to describe what you are after: “man-made” is actually what you mean, as distinct from not man-made. The trouble (from your point of view) is that “man-made” doesn’t get the blood up the way “unnatural” does and that is no good at all for those with political objectives. Emotion and fantasy are what makes politics tick, not sober reality and fact.

  • miss icy

    Valentine Dyall is probably a Monsanto or biotech company plant. “Natural” foods don’t cause renal and kidney failure, with other effects on the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and blood-making organs and tissues(International Journal of Biological Sciences). “Natural” foods don’t impair fertility, as the Austrian government found in mammals raised on GE corn. And glyphosate-based herbicides for GE crops, e.g. Roundup, cause malformations in embryos at doses significantly lower than used in agricultural spraying, findings compatible with the high rate and type of birth defects observed in humans in Argentina where GE soybeans are sprayed regularly. (Chemical Research in Toxicology)

  • http://www.milberg.com Andrei Rado

    Hi,

    I am one of the attorneys that filed the lawsuit discussed in this article. I want to clarify a few things.

    First, the test for whether something is natural in the lawsuit will be made under the “reasonable investor” standard.

  • http://www.classactioncentral.com Andrei Rado

    [take two]:

    Hi,

    I am one of the attorneys that filed the lawsuit discussed in this article. I want to clarify a few things.

    First, the test for whether something is natural in the lawsuit will be made under the “reasonable investor” standard. This will be the legal lens through which the claim that GMO is 100% natural will be viewed. Experts from both sides will explain hot the GMO seeds are created and it will ultimately be up to the jury to decide the issue.

    Second, while it is easy to fit the lawsuit into a broader GMO debate, the complaint that was filed is really about the narrower issue of consumer choice. Consumers should be allowed to choose what goes into their bodies, and that choice should be an informed one. Calling something “100% natural” when it is from GMO plants robs consumers of the ability to make that choice.

    If anyone has any questions about the lawsuit, I would be happy to answer them.

  • http://www.gmo-journal.com Deniza Gertsberg

    Mr. Rado-we very much appreciate your comments. We view consumer choice as an integral part of the GMO debate. Given the reality of the faulty regulatory system, which, thanks to the Coordinated Framework decided that no new regulations were needed for the novel technology and which subsequently splintered regulatory control over genetically modified foods and crops into different agencies the consequence of which was a GRAS determination from the FDA and lax supervision by the USDA/APHIS (with recent indications of the USDA/APHIS’ desire to move to even less regulations), consumers are left with little protections. Honest labeling is an absolute necessity.

  • http://www.gmo-journal.com Deniza Gertsberg

    And we would be remiss if we did not mention that certain GMOs are regulated by the EPA, specifically those producing pesticides internally. Like it’s sister agencies, however, the EPA’s regulatory function has often been criticized. (e.g., http://gmo-journal.com/index.php/2009/10/20/epas-flawed-regulation-of-gmos-examined/ ).

  • http://www.simransethi.com simran sethi

    USDA’s Biobased label – what they also call “biopreferred” is the same. The affiliated products do NOT test for GMOs – and the public will continue to be misled.