By Sterling Anthony, CPP, Contributing Editor packworld.com
Regardless of whether the epithet “Frankenfoods” is justified for edibles containing GMOs, the packaging-related issues might prove to be monstrous in size.
Any nationally-spotlighted controversy about labeling has ramifications for packaging in general, beyond whatever industry (in this case, food) is at the forefront. The Fair Labeling and Packaging Act is testament not only to the communication power of labeling and packaging but also to their susceptibility to misuse. Even as consumers stand in store aisles or elsewhere studiously reading labeling, each of them likely can recount an instance of dissatisfaction about what’s there, or as the case may be, what’s not there. Consumers have a right to be able to trust and rely on what’s being communicated; even so, they have a latent distrust of labeling, wary of sins of commission and omission. That latent distrust can be brought to the surface by allegations of dishonest food labeling and then can be carried over to the labeling of other products. After all, food is the largest product category that utilizes packaging and labeling and there’s no other category (including pharmaceuticals) that every person consumes daily.
Another way that the GMO controversy affects more than food packaging resides in the area of sustainability, more specifically the crops that are being grown for conversion into packaging materials (for related reading, see Bio-feedstocks becoming flights of fancy?). Manufacturers of PLA (polylactic acid) packaging made from corn containing GMOs have given assurances that the crop variety is being controlled from planting to conversion. Those manufactures say that there is no risk of their varieties of corn mistakenly entering the food chain with varieties of corn meant for human consumption. That needs to be true, for packaging’s sake; because packaging already is too much the sustainability scapegoat and doesn’t need anything else fostering that false image. And the concerns that can be expressed about corn apply equally to other crops used for making packaging, such as sugar cane and soybeans. Incidentally, the bio-plastics industries have spoken of plans for improved sustainability through the use of agricultural waste in making packaging; however, if the crops themselves from which the waste is derived contain GMOs, the basic issues herein discussed remain.
The controversy over labeling of GMOs has caused some food companies to seek an advantage through labeling that claims that the product contains no GMOs. If that’s a meaningful distinction to the targeted consumer, such claims make good business sense. But there are a multitude of “stealth” GMO ingredients and a company had better be able to defend its GMO-free product claims. Intentional untruthfulness is an ethical issue, unintentional untruthfulness is a competence issue, and a company can be judged as harshly for the one as for the other.
Sterling Anthony is a consultant, specializing in the strategic use of marketing, logistics, and packaging. His contact information is: 100 Renaissance Center- P.O. Box 43176; Detroit, MI 48243; 313-531-1875 office; 313-531-1972 fax; firstname.lastname@example.org ; www.pkgconsultant.com