Ghost Labels

Jan. 17, 2020

Freedom from non-existent dangers as a marketing ploy.

The other day I saw another ghost label. It was on a package of strawberries, and it said “GMO-free.”

A friend of mine has a daughter who, when she was little, was scared of ghosts. Every night at the little girl’s bedtime, my friend would inspect every corner of the room, under the bed, in the closet and the dresser drawers, etc., and solemnly declare the room “ghost-free.” Only then could the little girl settle in.

To me that’s more or less the mentality involved in labeling strawberries “GMO-free.” Strawberries are not now, and never have been, modified through gene-level manipulation. Calling them “GMO-free” is as superfluous and absurd as...

...well, as calling a bag of potato chips fried in vegetable oil “cholesterol-free.” Or saying that a loaf of bread has no HFCS. Or anything else that calls attention to the absence of this or that negative, demonized ingredient or nutrient, even if it has never been used and never could be used in the food or beverage in question.

What next? “Free of nuclear waste”? “No unicorns were harmed in the making of this product”?

Call me naïve, but I refuse to think consumers are that dumb. I think they’re more interested in what food does have than what it doesn’t, and that if you make a big deal of calling attention to the latter, it makes people think you don’t want them paying attention to the former.

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