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Food shaming: Why I'm avoiding foods labeled 'Non-GMO Project' verified

I recently grabbed a can of diced tomatoes from my pantry shelf and the "Non-GMO Project" butterfly logo caught my eye. There were many labels on the can. "Heart-healthy." "No Salt Added." "Flash Steam Peeled." "Non BPA Liner." But the Non-GMO Project Verified logo had a website below. It looked like propaganda and annoyed me.

Besides a tweet I saw a few weeks ago, I had mostly ignored the Non-GMO Project effort and campaign. I've purposefully tried to promote what I love about agriculture and food and avoid arguing about the misinformation and food marketing I disagree with. After making supper for my family, I decided to visit the Non-GMO Project website and Twitter profile to look through their information shared about creating a "non-GMO" world.

The people behind the project are a marketing machine, doing everything they can to get consumers to avoid GMOs in food. They've convinced millions of people and thousands of food brands and retailers of their beliefs. They imply non-GMO choices are higher quality, healthier and safer and you are at risk if your food isn't "Non-GMO Project" verified. They make other false claims that don't support our country's diverse agriculture industry and the resulting food choices. They go so far to feature a child holding up a sign that says "I will not eat GMOs" as their Twitter profile cover.

Non-GMO Project Twitter profile

What if you and your child were hungry? If you were given sweet corn or papaya grown from genetically engineered, or GMO, seeds, would you eat it? Would you eat the meat or drink the milk from animals who were fed alfalfa, soybean meal or field corn, all raised as GMO crops?

Yes, of course you would! We have become selfish, unaware people who think our world should be "non-GMO" only and the technology that advances agriculture to allow more people to eat is bad.

If you're a food secure elitist, this might not matter to you. You only care about your paycheck, your grocery bill and feeding yourself and your family. But if you care about those who are food insecure — those who have limited or uncertain access to adequate food — then this marketing ploy should catch your attention. The Non-GMO Project uses scare tactics and false advertising to scare and confuse you into buying non-GMO-only food.

It's your food choice. You can purchase and eat any type of food you want if you can afford it and you have access to it.

It's not lost on me that 15 years ago I was a single mom, living in south Fargo, trying to cover all my bills, pay down my credit card and student loan debt and save to buy my first house. I would go to the grocery store with my 6-year-old son with $40 cash every other week to feed the two us, in addition to raiding my mom's cupboards and freezers when I visited our family farm.

When I had a very limited budget for food, I didn't care about labels or even notice them. It was all about price. I needed cheap food and healthy options to feed my growing son. Food shaming and confusing marketing would have given me more guilt than I already had.

Today I support farmers who raise both non-GMO and GMO crops. I have friends who are certified organic farmers. I have a few farmer friends who raise organic, non-GMO and GMO crops. No matter what type of crops or animals they raise, it's labor-intensive and challenging work. Any type of farming or ranching is not for the faint of heart. Shaming, false marketing and pitting one segment of the agricultural and food industries against another need to stop.

Tomatoes aren't one of the 10 GMO crops — so why even label them non-GMO and further confuse consumers? The next time I go to buy diced tomatoes at the grocery store, I'm going to grab a can without the little butterfly logo. All the tomatoes in the cans are created equal.

I prefer to have access to GMO seeds, crops and food, all from the most regulated food system in the world, the United States. I want there to be scientific advancements in how farmers grow food.

GMO or Non-GMO choices are not about feeding you and me. It's about feeding hungry people and people who don't care about our opinions on food labels.

The Non-GMO Project is a sham. I'm disappointed so many food companies feel they have to give in or need to have the Non-GMO Project logo on their food. I'm disappointed in the hundreds of millions of consumers, including myself, who buy the food without thinking much about it.

I'm going to do my best to avoid food labeled with the Non-GMO Project logo. I won't go so far to boycott it, because if that's the only prepackaged applesauce for my kids' lunches, then I'm going to buy what's available in my small-town grocery store.

I challenge you to pay attention to the labels on the food you buy at the grocery store in the coming weeks. Take some time to research any special logos or claims and what they mean to you and the farmers who diligently work to provide you with food choices.