Why PepsiCo is Fighting GMO Labeling in California

Nation’s largest peddler of soda and junk food has the most at stake in ballot measure

Most people just think of soda when they hear the name “Pepsi.” But in fact, PepsiCo is the nation’s largest food company and second largest in the world. Its annual earnings top $60 billion, from a dizzying array of brands. Walk down almost any supermarket aisle (soda, snacks, cereal, juice) and you’re likely to bump into a PepsiCo-owned product.

This explains why the company is the top contributor among food makers to the “No on 37” campaign in California – a ballot initiative that would require labeling of foods containing GMO ingredients. Also, as I wrote about recently, PepsiCo is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a powerful trade group that has so far contributed $375,000 to the No on 37 campaign.

Why would PepsiCo pony up more than $90,000 just to keep Californians in the dark about what they are eating? A closer look at its “portfolio of products” (in corporate speak) reveals exactly what’s at stake for the food giant.

PepsiCo brands span five divisions: Pepsi-Cola, Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Tropicana, and Quaker. While most consumers probably think of processed snacks and cereal-type products when trying to avoid foods containing GMOs, beverages are also a major culprit (which explains why Coca-Cola has donated more than $61,000 to the No on 37 campaign).

Estimates are that up to 85 percent of corn grown in the U.S. in genetically engineered, and a significant number of PepsiCo brands contain some form of corn. For example, among PepsiCo beverages sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup are brands such as Pepsi and Mountain Dew, as well as the AMP Energy and Lipton iced tea lines, each of which contain numerous flavor varieties. Even some products within the company’s Tropicana line of “juice drinks” contain HFCS. Then there’s Naked Juice, which last year became the target of a consumer deception lawsuit over the brand’s “non-GMO” claim on the label, among other issues. (Gatorade reformulated its products to replace HFCS in 2010, but is not exactly a health drink either, as recent research has revealed.)

Speaking of GMO-related lawsuits against PepsiCo, I wrote last December about how the company is being sued over several Frito-Lay snack products labeled “natural,” despite containing genetically-modified corn and vegetable oils, including corn, soybean, and canola oils. (That case was re-filed earlier this year.) In 2010, Frito-Lay announced that half of its products would be made of “all-natural ingredients,” but of course non-GMO isn’t part of the company’s definition of natural. As I have explained, the Food and Drug Administration unfortunately has so far refused to create a workable definition, which is why companies like PepsiCo are able to deceive customers so easily.

The scope of Frito-Lay products potentially impacted by GMO labeling is vast. Among the brands under this $13 billion division that contain corn include Fritos, Doritos, Tostitos, and Cheetos. And that’s not counting the vegetable oils, which are almost all made with GMO ingredients. Even allegedly healthier brands like SunChips contain GMO corn, which is why that product is named in the deceptive labeling lawsuit against Frito-Lay.

Even PepsiCo’s relatively healthy division Quaker would be impacted if GMO foods must be labeled. In addition to plain old oats, the Quaker brand makes heavily processed granola bars. I counted six sources of corn—including HFCS and “corn syrup solids”—in this new “yogurt” variety (which contains no actual yogurt, but rather “yogurt flavored powder” – don’t even ask). It’s one thing for junk foods to bear a GMO label; I can’t imagine hard-core Cheetos fans caring too much about GMOs, but Quaker consumers probably would.

Another PepsiCo brand sure to make HQ nervous over GMO labeling is Mother’s, which claims its products are “all natural.” The Cornucopia Institute tested Mother’s cereal and found that it contains GMO ingredients, which is expected since some of the varieties contain corn. Imagine how many mothers would be upset to learn that the cereal named after them is genetically engineered.

PepsiCo’s official policy regarding using GMO ingredients is rather bland:

Approval of genetically-modified foods differs from country to country regarding both use and labeling. For this reason, PepsiCo adheres to all relevant regulatory requirements regarding the use of genetically-modified food crops and food ingredients within the countries it operates.

Translation: We follow the law, very impressive. But the statement also points to how the company has different standards around the world depending on what the law requires. More than 40 other nations— including the entire European Union— require some form of disclosure for foods made with GMOs.

What a shame that here in its home country, PepsiCo wants to ignore what 90 percent of American consumers say they want: to know which foods contain GMOs. PepsiCo would rather fight to maintain the status quo because it means a continued cheap supply of ingredients for its highly-processed, unhealthy beverages and junk food.

21 Responses to “Why PepsiCo is Fighting GMO Labeling in California”

  1. Barbara Hansen says:

    It seems so simple. We want to know what is in the food we buy. I’ll be reading labels even more closely than I have in the past. I’ll have to assume that any label that says “Pepsico” on it, indicates a product that I don’t need to purchase.

    • Michele says:

      Barbara. Very few (if any) individual PepsiCo brands contain the word PepsiCo, as that is the corporate name. You may see one of the five divisions listed: Pepsi-Cola, Gatorade, Quaker, Tropicana, Frito-Lay, buried on the back of the packaging. But otherwise, you should just assume that almost any product in the supermarket is owned by some large corporation.

  2. Alan Foster says:

    While I agree on almost all said above, where does it show on the label that Sierra Mist contains HFCS? Certainly don’t see it on the label unless they are hiding it under another name like citric acid or sugar.

    • Michele says:

      Alan, thanks for catching that, I must have been looking at an old website for that info. I have made the correction to remove Sierra Mist from that sentence.

  3. [...] Why PepsiCo is Fighting GMO Labeling in California | Appetite for Profit. Rate this:Share this:TwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. [...]

  4. Linda says:

    Can’t get away from the poison they feed you, but you can stop buying their brands.

  5. JasonMChicago says:

    Great article. Thanks for sharing. I learned a lot about stuff. I knew Naked was owned by Pepsi but I never thought they’d have the nerve to label something NON-gmo when they knew it had GMO. That’s crazy! and illegal!!

    • duke-rules says:

      Jason, it is only illegal if the justice department goes after corporate criminals. Unfortunately Eric Holder is just as much ‘in the pocket’ of large corporations as the DOJ under the Bush crime family. Right now the Justice department is “just us”.

  6. Gianna Borkhuis says:

    I refuse to spend my money on junk. I will not buy anything from PepsiCo.

  7. Elen says:

    stop eating processed foods, and you wont have much to worry about. Well except for the new GMO corn coming out at a Walmart near you.

  8. Roberta Stedfield says:

    A few months ago , I e-mailed Quacker Oats in Canada and asked if their rolled oats were non-gmo. They could not answer my question with a yes or no and gave me the run around about how they comply with the Canadian, blah, blah, blah. NATURAL is the popular word now to fleece us all into thinking that it’s good for us. Wasn’t everything originally on the planet natural? Natural becomes a bad thing when man re-combines harmless natural elements into POISON!

  9. Frank says:

    Far between are those of us willing to demand a standard which places the betterment of society before profit. So long as we don’t hold our governmental officials and corporate interests accountable for distorting the laws in their favor; we will change nothing. I thank you for this website and your courage to help us become aware.

  10. [...] week I wrote about why PepsiCo was the largest food maker to donate money to the “No on 37″ [...]

  11. [...] behind processed foods are also getting in on the fight — like PepsiCo, whose many sub-brands sell many foods and beverages that contain GMO high-fructose corn syrup, soy lecithen, etc. So are the companies behind quite a few “health food brands” — from Kashi to [...]

  12. [...] behind processed foods are also getting in on the fight — like PepsiCo, whose many sub-brands sell many foods and beverages that contain GMO high-fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin, etc. So are the companies behind quite a few “health food brands” — from Kashi to Gardenburger to [...]

  13. James Cooper says:

    But you don’t indicate any reason to dispute the “natural” label if a food contains GMO ingredients. Nor have you cited any studies to indicate that they are harmful. (There aren’t any.)

    • Wayne says:

      Uh, James, possibly it is the definition of “natural.” – “Existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind.” How could something that is genetically modified be called “Natural?” Nature did not modify it, scientists did.

  14. Donna Marquart says:

    Can you imagine the chaos there would be for so many if the truth about GMO’s was understood – including the farmer who grows GMO’s – cause there is NOT a lot of choice anymore since the biochem companies put so many small farmers and seed companies out of business – not to mention the companies who “manufacture” the processed stuff? It is not as if people are totally unaware. They are. They just don’t know what to do about it esp. because so much of what we eat is less than “natural”. Go watch Genetic Roulette – Institute of Responsible Technology.

  15. dick rogers says:

    The word is out : now it’s important that it gets around, bringing up the subject of GMO’S and the adverse health effects in can do has to be spread far and wide. One comment someone made hit the nail on the head, not buying the products, is the sure fire way to get their intention. If the farmers want to grow that crap, let the farmers eat it.

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