December 22, 2011
Less than a year after Frito-Lay announced plans to make half their products without “any artificial or synthetic ingredients,” the $13 billion company was sued last week in federal court for fraudulently marketing the snacks that contain genetically modified ingredients.
Somehow, “artificial” and “synthetic” doesn’t include “genetically modified” in Frito’s mind.
In its April 2011 “Seed-to-Shelf” disclosure campaign, Frito-Lay promised to inform consumers about each individual snack’s ingredients, even setting up an app for smartphone users to swipe the product’s barcode and read about it. Ann Mukherjee, Frito-Lay’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, gushed:
“What better way to share the story behind Frito-Lay snacks than by giving consumers a look inside our Flavor Kitchen to see first-hand the all natural ingredients and real foods that inspire the products we make?”
Real foods? All natural? Even Monsanto defines genetically modified organisms as unnatural, which the lawsuit quoted:
“Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) – Plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs.”
The World Health Organization agrees, defining GMOs as “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.”
The lawsuit names only one plaintiff, Julie Gengo of Richmond, California, but includes all those who purchased Frito’s products which bear the “ALL NATURAL” label. Last August, the law firm Milberg LLP invited potential litigants to contact them.
Though Gengo holds a BS in Electrical Engineering, she earns a living as an independent marketer for such organizations as Berkeley Playhouse/Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, Vital Systems, Bay Area Green Tours, Oxfam America and Slow Money Northern California. She describes herself as “an ongoing environmental, and healthy foods advocate.”
In early 2009, she wrote Genetically Modified (GM) Foods – Another Reason to Buy Organic, warning people that Frito-Lay uses GMOs. According to the complaint, since 2007, she regularly bought the company’s Tostitos and Sun Chips believing they were “all natural” as indicated in advertising and on the package.
On Dec. 20, Frito’s “Naturally Delicious” webpage still boasts:
“All Frito-Lay snack chips made with natural ingredients start with all-natural corn or potatoes and healthier oils. For our flavored LAY’S®, TOSTITOS® and SUNCHIPS® products, we are using all natural seasonings that don’t have artificial or synthetic ingredients.”
But because they contain GMOs from genetically modified corn and genetically modified soy, in five separate counts, plaintiff charges Frito-Lay with fraud, deception, unfair competition and false warrants under several laws including the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.