Lawsuit claims Nestlé’s non-GMO seal is misleading

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Dive Brief:

– A California woman filed a class action lawsuit against Nestlé USA, claiming the food manufacturer’s “No GMO ingredients” seal is easily confused with the Non-GMO Project Verified seal, according to NBC News.

– The lawsuit claims that consumers may think that Nestlé’s seal, which is an in-house claim, means the same thing as the the Non-GMO Project’s seal. The Nestlé seal is a claim the company makes, while items with the Non-GMO Project’s seal are subject to rigorous testing and requirements.

– Nestlé​ said the lawsuit is baseless. In a statement provided to CBS News, the company said, “Our product labels that declare the absence of GMO ingredients are accurate, comply with FDA and USDA regulations and provide consumers with information to help them make informed purchasing decisions. As indicated on our labels, the process for manufacturing Nestlé’s products bearing a ‘No GMO Ingredients’ claim is verified by SGS, a world leader in third-party inspection, verification, testing and certification.”

Dive Insight:

Even though experts say genetically modified food is as nutritious and safe to eat as its conventional counterparts, going non-GMO is big business. According to the Non-GMO Project, the Non-GMO Project Verified label with its bright butterfly is one of the natural food industry’s fastest growing certifications. It’s currently on more than 50,000 products from more than 3,000 manufacturers, representing more that $22.3 billion in annual sales.

But regardless of the popularity of the Non-GMO Project’s verification label, has Nestlé done anything wrong by making its own symbol? The manufacturer said its non-GMO claims meet federal standards, and are verified by international inspection, testing and certification company SGS. Federal GMO standards, which are in the process of being solidified, are much looser than those set by the Non-GMO Project. The federal government is currently working to come out with final regulations about mandatory GMO labeling through a federal law signed by President Obama in July 2016. Draft regulations setting out potential rules and use cases for labeling were published in May.

The Non-GMO Project has forcefully objected to many of the provisions in the draft federal regulations. It also has objected to the federal government’s decree that meat, dairy products and eggs are non-GMO, regardless of whether the animals they came from ate GMO feed. But regardless of the group’s opinion, products will need to comply with the regulations in the law once it goes into place.

Looking at the symbols themselves, Nestle’s own symbol isn’t nearly as colorful as the Non-GMO Project’s. Both are rectangles of roughly the same size. But even at a glance, the two don’t look overly similar. Whether a consumer would think they are the same is debatable. However, it’s likely the casual consumer would not know there are two very different standards of GMOs being applied here.

While the federal rules for GMO labeling get finalized, this may continue to be a problem. Without a clear definition of what is and is not allowed to be called “non-GMO,” manufacturers can follow the less stringent requirements and make a truthful label claim. However, once the new GMO label regulations are adopted, this kind of lawsuit could quickly become moot because consumers would presumably know the meaning of a non-GMO symbol.

If the new law continues on the path that the draft regulations started on, the party finding itself in trouble in these situations may be the Non-GMO Project. While its standard has been around and adopted longer than the new GMO labeling law, it may have to work harder to let consumers know the difference between its seal and others.

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Food Dive

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