How many of you respond to calls for action? In this time of contentious politics, writing a member of Congress, a letter to the editor, or even attending a meeting of your neighborhood citizen association may not appear on your to-do list. Fortunately, we can express any opinion we choose using our third eye – a smart phone – to engage. I’m not completely certain how modern activism affects change within government. I am certain, however, the compendium of noise-related messaging is having a profound effect in the marketplace.
Take the FDA’s decision to approve the sale of AquaBounty (genetically modified salmon) without labeling. The Center for Food Safety reported the FDA received 1.8 million comments in opposition to what is affectionately referred to as “Frankenfish.” Despite the overwhelming opposition generated by people, the FDA issued its approval. Court cases and legislation aside, we could see this fish on store shelves within two years, but will we?
A Pew Research survey found that fifty-seven percent of adults in the United States believe genetically modified foods are unsafe, and retailers are paying notice. Friends of the Earth reports more than 60 grocery chains, including Costco, Safeway, and Wholefoods, representing more than 9,000 stores, will not sell the fish. Restaurant chains are watching and Red Lobster has joined in opposition. At the end of the day, the will of almost two million consumers, and a savvy marketplace, may supersede the FDA’s influence. Which takes me to the FDA’s latest endeavor: defining natural.
The FDA surprised everyone by issuing a Call for Comment on the definition of natural. Questions range from the philosophical “Should we define, through rulemaking, the term natural? Why or why not?” to the more pragmatic and complex concerns relating to processing and production. And yes, the FDA asks us if genetic engineering is natural. The public is responding. In a quick review of 1,250 of the 3,901 comments submitted, there was not one voice declaring genetically engineered (GE) or genetically modified organisms (GMO) to be natural. Instead, there is clear consensus building for a definition that excludes synthetic and artificial ingredients (akin to the existing guidance of the Agency), and limits natural to products originating from the ground, not the manufacturing plant.
The Organic & Natural Health Association will share the results of its own consumer study pointing to the confusion regarding natural labels. It seems most believe natural is the same as organic, only cheaper. One-third of the general public believes there is no difference in the two labels. Sixty-one percent of consumers say organic is regulated by the federal government, true, while 46 percent believe the same hold true for natural, not true. Thirty-three percent of consumers use natural products at least one a day, which puts them in the ‘heavy users’ category. In contrast, only 23 percent of consumers use organic at least once a day. Misleading marketing is having an impact.
We believe the natural standard must be organic-plus, i.e. ‘natural beef’ must be organic, plus grass-fed and pastured. We also know there aren’t enough orange trees to meet consumer demand for vitamin C, making bio-identical synthetic C a sound option. We need sustainable business practices that are transparent, ensure traceability, and require continued quality improvement in production, manufacturing, and human and animal welfare.
One respondent quipped, “…what difference does it make to FDA when they will bow to the will of lobbyists?” And, I ask myself, who else, besides me, is reading every one of what could be more than 2 million submissions? You have until May 10 to respond to the FDA’s request for comment.
More on Organic & Natural at www.organicandnatural.org follow on Twitter @OrgNatHealth or www.facebook.com/organicandnaturalhealthassociation.
By Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director of Organic & Natural Health Association, a visionary and results-focused leader who has spent more than 30 years working with Congress, state legislatures and healthcare organizations to develop innovative healthcare policy and programs. She has held a variety of executive positions, including serving as professional staff for a Congressional committee, and has policy expertise in the diverse areas of integrative and complementary medicine, managed care, healthcare technology and mental health. An advocate at heart, she has worked to strategically advance the mission and vision of organizations through effective advocacy and strong collaboration.