retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Wall Street Journal over the weekend featured a commentary piece by Henry I. Miller - described as “a physician and molecular biologist … a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution,” and the “founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology” - in which he attacks the organic food business as being rife with “blatantly false and deceptive advertising claims.”

An excerpt:

“Consider the Whole Foods website, which explicitly claims that organic foods are grown ‘without toxic or persistent pesticides.’ In fact, organic farmers rely on synthetic and natural pesticides to grow their crops, just as conventional farmers do, and organic products can contain numerous synthetic as well as natural chemicals. As observed by UC Berkeley biochemist Bruce Ames and his colleagues in 1990, ’99.99% (by weight) of the pesticides in the American diet are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves’.”

Another excerpt:

“In addition to blatant untruths, food marketers are masters at subtly misleading consumers. A favored technique is the ‘absence claim’ —asserting a meaningless distinction between products in order to make theirs seem superior. Generally, the FDA comes down hard on such behavior. They would never allow an orange-juice producer to label its product ‘fat free,’ for example. To claim an absence of a certain ingredient, there has to be a ‘standard of presence’ in that product to begin with, and there is no fat in orange juice.

“But Tropicana gets away with labeling its orange juice ‘Non-GMO Project Verified,’ and Hunt’s labels its canned crushed tomatoes ‘non-GMO,’ even though there are no GMO (genetically modified organism) oranges or tomatoes on the market. In fact, absence claims about GMOs are never enforced: I was unable to find a single FDA warning letter or other enforcement action against deceptive ‘non-GMO’ labeling.”

Miller concludes:

“Giving the organic industry and others a pass to engage in such active deception undermines consumers’ choice, erodes trust in the market, and rigs the game. Consumers need aggressive FDA action to curb these abuses and level the playing field.”

You can read the entire piece here.
KC's View:
On this one, I think I’m going to let members of the MNBV community respond. I think that every industry has manipulators and deceivers, but I’m a little surprised that this fellow is using such a broad brush.