It’s no secret that sugary drinks and highly processed foods rank near the bottom when it comes to healthy choices; however, a national coalition is targeting U.S. soda giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi for another unhealthy practice: their use of genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) in their products.
GMO Inside, a campaign dedicated to advancing the right of consumers to know whether or not foods are genetically engineered, is calling on Coca-Cola and Pepsi to label their GMO ingredients—or get GMOs completely out of their products.
GMO Inside is also calling attention to the fact that Coca-Cola and Pepsi have spent more than $4.1 million to derail GMO labeling in the U.S. There are now more than 60 countries that require GMO labeling; however, the U.S. is not one of them. Last fall, voters in California went to the polls to try to become the first state to allow for the statewide labeling of GMO ingredients. Despite growing consumer demand for labeling and popular public support for this proposition, Prop 37 was defeated, due to millions of dollars spent by major food and chemical companies. PepsiCo contributed $2,485,400 against Prop 37 and Coca-Cola spent $1,700,500.
High fructose corn syrup and sugar, the staple ingredients in any soda, are derived from two of the most extensively genetically engineered crops: corn and sugar beets. According to the Non-GMO Project, 95 percent of the sugar beet crop and more than 88 percent of the corn crop are now genetically modified in the U.S. Even diet options are not guaranteed to be non-GMO, as aspartame, the most common artificial sweetener, is made from a genetically modified bacteria.
“Over the past few years there has been an emphasis on healthier eating and cola sales are decreasing,” said Elizabeth O’Connell, campaign director for GMO Inside. “However, it’s extremely frustrating for consumers who think they are making healthier choices, like Tropicana or Simply, to learn that they are still consuming unhealthy ingredients like added sugar and high fructose corn syrup, and that these ingredients are likely to be genetically engineered.”
Beyond soda, these companies own a long list of juice brands often thought to be a better choice than soda. The Coca-Cola Company also owns Simply Orange, Vitamin Water, Powerade, Fruitopia, Minute Maid, Hi-C, Odwalla and Zico. PepsiCo owns Tropicana, Lipton, Gatorade and Naked Juice. Some of these soda alternatives contain high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, sugar, and aspartame—and are therefore likely to contain genetically engineered ingredients.
Additionally, Pepsi owns Frito-Lay, and a host of other food brands: Aunt Jemima, Life Cereal, Hostess, Tostitos and many others. Some products from Frito-Lay even go so far to be labeled "natural" despite containing genetically modified corn and vegetable oils, including corn, soybean and canola.
GMOs have never been proven safe for consumption, and a growing body of studies is raising concerns around the health effects of eating them. GMOs are also increasing the use of toxic herbicides and causing harm to farmers in the US and abroad. Adding to this injustice is the fact that both Coca-Cola and Pepsi offer non-GMO versions of their products in Europe, where the labeling of genetically modified ingredients is required.
“As the number three contributor behind the campaign to defeat Prop 37, behind pesticide and biotech giants Monsanto and DuPont, Pepsi's contribution to the dishonest anti-GMO labeling campaign was a main reason that Americans are still denied their right to know what's in their food,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now! and cochair of Prop 37, “Because of Pepsi and Coke’s financial support, Prop 37 and GMO labeling lost by a narrow margin of 48.6 percent to 51.4 percent. It’s time for companies like Coke and Pepsi to stop deceiving the American public and label GMOs like they do in more 62 other countries around the world.”
GMO Inside is urging consumers to take action against Coke and Pepsi online by signing this petition and leaving comments on their Facebook walls—and at the grocery store by choosing drinks and snacks without GMOs. Consumers can find non-GMO alternatives by looking for the Non-GMO Verified Project label or choosing food with certified organic labels.
To date, more than 15,000 consumers have taken action with GMO Inside against companies using GMOs including Monsanto, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Hershey, Mars and others. In December 2012, the campaign and its 30,000 Facebook friends shut down the Cheerios Facebook page app with comments about GMOs.