It’s Not ‘Woke’ For Corporations To Dismiss What Leads To Food Abundance
Country singer Glenn Campbell died rich and very famous in Nashville in 2017. Both his wealth and fame would have been hard to fathom in consideration of his formative years in Billstown, Arkansas.
Campbell’s early life was marked by immense deprivation. It’s difficult to imagine today in a rich country like the U.S., but food was very scarce in Campbell’s childhood home. To be blunt, Campbell often went to bed hungry. So great was the pain from his hunger that the preternaturally gifted guitarist used to jam his fist into his solar plexus while in bed at night. Campbell’s reasoning was that the agony he administered to himself with his own fist was less biting than the pain that a light form of starvation brought him as he fought to get to sleep.
Campbell’s early challenges came to mind recently while watching a Smirnoff Vodka ad, which included the increasingly familiar “non-GMO” claim. In an age of intense virtue-signaling, it would appear Smirnoff’s marketers have decided that there’s gold to be mined from being the most “woke” of vodka’s.
In Smirnoff’s case, they’ve created a commercial with former Cheers star Ted Danson as pitchman. As readers can probably imagine, Danson smoothly extols the virtues of Smirnoff; virtues that include the vodka’s status as a “non-GMO” alcohol drink. Oh dear…
Yet another brand taken in by the falsehoods promoted by the Non-GMO Project, a fact-challenged organ of the $124 billion dollar organic food industry that aims to further the blatant falsehood that genetically-modified foods have poisonous qualities that organic ones do not. In truth, “organic” is just a pose. As Bill Clinton’s Agriculture secretary Dan Glickman explained it in 2000, “The organic label is a marketing tool. It is not a statement about food safety, nor is ‘organic’ a value judgment about nutrition or quality.”
Applied to Smirnoff, its “Non-GMO” posturing amounts to false advertising that is prohibited by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). About the prohibition, in a sane world businesses would be able to make any claims they want. Figure that consumers and media can and will reveal the truth about any business and product.
The problem is that in the food space the world isn’t exactly sane. In the food and drink sector, regulation of each by the FDA (along with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) brings new meaning to hyper. What this means in practice is that the heavy regulation has created the perception among consumers that all label claims (as broadly defined) have been approved and validated by the regulatory bodies. In other words, they assume that the government agrees with and has validated the implied health claims (in the case of Smirnoff) or explicit health claims (in the case of the Non-GMO Project) that GMOs are bad for you. So you have the worst of all worlds: a hyper-regulated market in which certain bad actors (those disparaging GMOs) are given a special pass to flout the law and lead consumers to believe government is on its side.
Where it gets even more unseemly in this case is that businesses making Non-GMO claims about their products are very specifically hiding behind FDA approval of their actions even though FDA rules very specifically disallow false advertising. And false ones they are.
With the Danson ad Smirnoff’s marketers are lending the brand’s voice to the false insinuation that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are somehow harmful. Nothing could be further from the truth.
By wrapping itself in what it presumes to be non-GMO finery, Smirnoff’s is furthering the silly narrative that organic, non-GMO farm production is a good, healthy thing, while GMO food production is unhealthy and bad. Readers shouldn’t be fooled. “Organic” is nothing more than a marketing term, not an indication of “healthy.” As for “non-GMO,” the designation is as backwards as music collector bragging that all of his music is stored on 8-track tapes.
Indeed, while there’s nothing wrong with pesticide usage by farmers in order to greatly enhance output, “organic” producers would like for us to believe that they nobly create healthy vegetables for the consumer sans those allegedly harmful inputs. No, they don’t. “Organic” farmers utilize pesticides too. If they didn’t, their output would be rather slight, and most likely inedible.
Taking the overdone hysteria about GMOs further, the wise and practical among us should cheer farmers who utilize GMOs, while looking with wonderment at those who don’t. Food producers who don’t rely on GMOs are the equivalent of a computer programmer accessing the internet via dial-up. GMOs aren’t evil, rather they’re useful inputs that greatly enhance the productivity of the typical farmer in much the same way as 5G internet access will eventually multiply the productivity of the typical worker.
Importantly, GMOs are but the latest in a long line of technological advances that have rendered food quite a bit more edible and plentiful. Just as soil has long been enhanced by the lifesaver that we now know as fertilizer, GMOs of more recent vintage very happily marry science with production. The result is exponentially more food that is also cheaper and healthier than the more limited fare created in the past.
Looked at through the prism of Smirnoff’s smug and anti-technology dismissal of GMOs, it’s not just that the anti-GMO mob is promoting false narratives about the quality of genetically enhanced food. What’s more troubling is that Smirnoff is the latest, but surely not the last brand promoting a rush away from technology to the detriment of food supply.
That’s unfortunate simply because life wasn’t always this plentiful. In what was a more GMO-free past, children going to bed hungry was more of the norm. Yet thanks to incredibly humane technological advances like GMOs, starvation is increasingly a yesterday problem in the United States.
So when readers see ads promoting the blast to our more impoverished past that are the “non-GMO” designation, they might cast a more skeptical eye on whatever is being peddled to them, all the while imagining Glenn Campbell when he was young. It’s sad to contemplate how many kids went to bed as Campbell did, writhing in pain thanks to food being both expensive and scarce.
John Tamny is a Forbes contributor, Director of the Center for Economic Freedom at FreedomWorks, editor of RealClearMarkets, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research & Trading. He’s the author of “Who Needs the Fed?” (Encounter 2016), along with “Popular Economics” (Regnery, 2015).