What to do about “All Natural” Chips?

According to the Chicago Tribune, a New York man has sued Frito Lays in a proposed class action claiming that the “all natural ingredient” labels on the company’s Sun Chips and Tostitos products are deceptive. According to the complaint, the chips contain ingredients derived from genetically modified corn and oils. Further, the plaintiff alleged he paid an additional 10 cent “premium” for the chips over their Doritos counterpart. The plaintiff seeks damages in excess of $5 million.

The case is captioned Shake et al. v. Frito Lay North America, Inc., No. 12-408 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 30, 2012).

These allegations raise a couple of pertinent issues. First, can the plaintiff really claim that he paid a premium for “all natural” chips?  For many, a ten cent premium may seem trivial.   We here at Abnormal Use appreciate the desire to purchase organic or all-natural foods. In doing so, we expect to pay a premium.  However, we would expect these premiums to far, far exceed the 10 cents alleged by the plaintiff.  Ever try purchasing organic milk for 10 cents more than its non-organic counterpart?  When faced with the decision of purchasing two bags of chips, one “all natural” and one not, we doubt a 10 cent differential in price is a deciding factor in the process. In fact, we might not even notice the difference in cost.

Second, to our knowledge, the Food and Drug Administration has no definition for “natural” as it applies to food labels.  Of course, it may be difficult for the FDA to define such a term.  What is “all natural” anyway? Certainly, the phrase can be left to varying interpretations.  Should “all-natural” be restricted to plants grown without the use of pesticides?  Or should the definition go further?  Apparently, the plaintiff’s beef with Frito-Lay is that the company uses organisms genetically modified in a lab by swapping genetic material across species.  It is unclear whether the allegations stem from the “genetic modification” itself or that the modification itself which occurred in a lab.  Genetic swapping occurs naturally all the time.  We can not even begin to count the number of products we enjoy on a daily basis that were created as a result of “natural” genetic swapping.  Are these products considered “all natural”?  Where do we draw the line?

The desire to eat foods the way they were intended is a noble feat.  However, we shouldn’t be so quick to dispose of the advances of modern science.

Let’s not be so quick to pass judgment on new plant species created by the marvels of modern science. Who knows, maybe we are on the brink of the new “natural”?

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