This is going to be quick and dirty, but I just came across a flurry of tweets regarding this topic and feel the need to address it. Vani Hari, aka “the Food Babe” is acting like she’s uncovered the conspiracy of the century because she discovered a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese that, upon export to the United Kingdom, was slapped with a warning label saying that it was “made from genetically modified wheat”. Given the news this week that GMO wheat was found growing on an Oregon farm, the Internets have predictably gone ballistic.
Food Babe lists several possible scenarios regarding the supposed presence of a crop that has never been commercially grown in what is probably one of the most popular products in the grocery store. However, she fails to consider the simplest explanation of all: somebody screwed up the label!
You see, people call different crops by different names in different parts of the world, even when we supposedly all speak the same language. The term “corn” which we in North America typically use to refer to the ubiquitous Zea mays is actually commonly used around the world to refer to whichever grain crop is most commonly cultivated. For some, it’s rye, for some it’s barley, and most germane to this discussion, in Great Britain, it’s wheat. What we call corn is referred to as “maize” in the UK.
Can you see where I’m going with this? Whoever was in charge of generating that warning label probably assumed “Brits call wheat ‘corn’, so they must call corn ‘wheat’. We need to say Mac & Cheese is made from GMO corn, but we don’t want them to think we mean ‘wheat’ so to make sense to them, we’ll say ‘GMO wheat’.” If they had asked someone who understood the terminology, they would have correctly labeled it as “made from genetically modified maize.” But who wants to have to ask what could seem like a stupid question, right?
Do I have conclusive proof that this is what happened? Well, no. But which explanation makes more sense? That Kraft has been secretly cultivating vast acreages of un-commercialized GMO wheat so they can use it in their products, assuming no one would notice the UK label and ask questions? Or that some hapless person created a warning label based on a faulty assumption rather than a full understanding of crop/food terminology differences between continents?
Never assume a conspiracy when plain old human error will suffice!
UPDATE: June 3, 2013:
Today, Kraft stated that there is no GMO wheat in their Mac & Cheese or any other product (no shock there!). More interesting is that statement that they do not have an authorized distributor in the UK, so whichever company/companies (see the link to Cami Ryan’s excellent post below for more details) are importing the product (and labeling it) are doing so without Kraft’s involvement. The plot thickens – just like that vivid orange cheese powder!