NPR Story
12:43 pm
Fri November 15, 2013

For Those Who Want To Avoid GMO Foods, There's An App For That

Mmm … lunchtime. These Beanfields Nacho Bean and Rice Chips sure are tasty. They also happen to be made by a company that hasn't fueled opposition to labeling genetically modified foods – according to the Buycott app I tried out today.

Another app, the Non-GMO Shopping Guide, tells me that these chips have been verified as fully compliant with the Non-GMO Product Standard (more on that later).

The same is not true for the Nature Valley bars my co-worker keeps at his desk for snacking.

I was curious about these apps I'd been hearing about that supposedly tell you whether the food you're eating was made by a company that opposes GMO product labeling.

This seemed especially relevant in light of the recent failure of Washington Initiative 522, which would have required companies to label foods that contain genetically modified organisms. Washington voters rejected the measure with about 55 percent opposed and 45 percent in favor. A similar measure in California, Proposition 37, failed last year by a similar margin.

Many argue one of the reasons the measures failed is because of the millions of dollars companies contributed to opposition campaigns. In Washington, opponents of Initiative 522 vastly outspent supporters nearly three to one. In California, the opposition campaign raised a whopping $44 million compared with just $7.3 million raised by supporters.

The Buycott app tracks which companies are associated with that spending. If you join GMO labeling campaigns, it allows you to scan the bar code of a product you're thinking about buying. It then checks to see whether the company that made that product opposed GMO labeling campaigns. I joined the "Buy Organic Brands That Support Your Right To Know" campaign to learn how the app worked.

My co-worker's Nature Valley granola bars are made by General Mills, which is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. When I scanned the bar code on the box, I was told that I am avoiding General Mills because the association gave $1.2 million to the campaign that fought against California's GMO labeling measure Proposition 37. And because the app says, the association donated "illegally" to the campaign opposing the GMO labeling initiative 522 in Washington.

You can see here that the grocery association spent millions fighting Initiative 522. And you can see here that General Mills is a member of the association.

There was also a lawsuit filed against the association accusing it of concealing the names of retailers that gave money to the opposition campaign but didn't want their names to be released.

So, the Buycott app helps people choose not to buy food from companies that opposed GMO labeling through campaign contributions.

The Non-GMO Product Shopping Guide takes a different tack. It offers offers tips for avoiding GMO foods and provides a list of foods that meet a non-GMO product standard. It was created by The Non-GMO Project, which claims to be the only independent verification system that checks for genetically modified foods. It offers a seal of approval to products that meet its standard, though the group admits that label doesn't guarantee a product is GMO-free because of testing limitations.

-- Cassandra Profita

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