Frito-Lay sued for labeling its GMO-filled snacks as “All Natural”

By Rady Ananda
Food Freedom

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.

Based in New York City and specializing in class-action lawsuits on behalf of investors and consumers, Milberg LLP also has offices in Los Angeles, Tampa and Detroit. Founded in 1965, the firm now employs about 75 attorneys.

After two successful class action suits against military contractors Raytheon and General Electric, in 2006 Milberg was the target of a criminal probe by the US Dept of Justice. The firm and some of its partners were indicted on 20 criminal counts including bribery, racketeering and fraud. The DOJ press release alleges the firm participated “in a scheme in which several individuals were paid millions of dollars in secret kickbacks in exchange for serving as named plaintiffs in more than 150 class-action and shareholder derivative-action lawsuits.”

Four of Milberg LLP’s partners served time in prison, and the firm paid $75 million in fines before the DOJ dropped the matter, reports Wikipedia.

Frito-Lay North America is a wholly-owned subsidiary of PepsiCo, Inc. Though Pepsi uses genetically modified sweeteners (high fructose corn syrup) in its soft drinks, it does not label them for U.S. consumers, adhering to the US regulator policy of hiding GMOs from the public.

In 2009, the US Food and Drug Administration proposed rules banning GMO labels. Despite government policy of keeping GMO food ingredients secret from the public, citizens are advancing toward requiring full disclosure.

  • The Frito-Lay lawsuit was initiated in California where a GMO-label law has been proposed for vote in the November 2012 election.
  • In Ohio, a district court overturned the ban on labeling milk as free from artificial hormones last year.  The FDA approves the genetically modified additive, which has been linked to cancer and lower milk quality. Developed by Monsanto, rBGH is banned in Canada, the European Union, Japan and Australia.

I have to admit I still enjoy a bag of Fritos every now and then, a victim of high school euphoric recall when we would smoke a bowl and then eat Fritos, washing them down with cold chocolate milk.  (What a body rush.)  Still, I want the packages labeled.  A better snack is hand-made eggrolls, with completely organic ingredients and sauce. You can find that recipe in Cooking Close to Home.  I even found a package of eggroll wraps (at Whole Foods Market) that advised the product was made without GMOs.  Na na na to the FDA.


53 responses to “Frito-Lay sued for labeling its GMO-filled snacks as “All Natural”

  1. I stopped eating Lay’s, about a year ago; when they stopped the “sunflower and safflower” oil labelling and switched to “vegetable oil” – obviously GMO corn, soy, canola or cottonseed. It’s like a full time job, just to keep up with their little tricks!

  2. Michael Marchetti

    Ok, great news, I take it that they are “being sued” and that this matter has not been resolved?

    Like I said great! But why is Whole Foods being left out of this equation?
    I had made the correlation some months ago regarding 365 product(s) containing corn/soy that Whole Foods has labeled “All Natural” that it should not be labeled all natural if it contains GMO’s. Whole Food admits to having GMO ingredients in their 365 products etc.

    I think this would have been a good opportunity to make clear just were Whole Foods stands regarding GMO and labeling and disclosure. And do they have products labeled “All Natural” containing GMO ingredients

    Frito Lay—yea, you would expect them to use GMO ingredients and have a flagrant disregard for any public concerns or social well being. But, Whole Foods—with their mission statement and all— that’s the field ripe for picking Randy.

    • yeah, we’ve posted some pieces on Whole Foods ~ but I wanted to let folks know where I bought the eggroll wrappers that claim no GMOs.

      Some of 365’s products have been tested and certified as being GMO free.

      You’re also right that food companies in the US claim “all natural” simply because they think they’ve got regulators behind them, allowing the deceptive use of the term. Let’s hope this lawsuit overturns that practice.

      Clearly, “all natural” would exclude GMOs.

  3. Clearly, “all natural” would exclude GMOs! But in case anyone has any doubt, I actually received an email from Frito-Lay about a year ago where the rep states “…our Natural line of snacks that do not contain genetically modified ingredients, are made with organic corn, and contain no artificial flavors, colors, preservatives and MSG.”

    No confusion there!

    Now lets keep after Whole Foods (AND Trader Joe’s) for the truth behind their non-GMO claims!! We can’t give up!

  4. This lawsuit is HUGE – Do you know the outcome of similar lawsuits against “Naked” juices and Kashi?

    • thanks for the news tip. Here’s one article on Naked Juice:

      Naked Juice not so natural, lawsuit says
      November 22, 2011 | 4:21 pm

      There’s more to Naked Juice than the Monrovia-based juice company promotes in its advertising, according to a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

      The lawsuit accuses Naked Juice and parent PepsiCo Inc. of marketing juice products as “all natural” when they actually contain “unnaturally processed and synthetic ingredients.”

      Those ingredients include zinc oxide, ascorbic acid, cyanocobalamin and others.

      “Consumers were deceived into believing that the unnatural products were in fact natural substances,” but were actually created through “artificial and mechanical means,” the lawsuit said.

      Andrea Foote, a spokeswoman for Naked Juice, said the company by policy does not comment on pending litigation.

      “We stand behind the juices that we craft and we’re committed to full compliance with labeling laws and regulations,” she said.

      The lawsuit, filed Monday by Los Angeles consumer Gina Park, seeks certification as a class action. It accuses Naked Juice of violating California’s Unfair Business Practices Act and seeks unspecified monetary damages and an injunction ordering the company to discontinue its marketing practices.

  5. lol… truly. I wonder how stupid they think we are!?!

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  7. I do still have the letter, I sent it off to the Attorney’s this morning!

  8. “…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…”

    Note that the spokes-prostitute uses the word “inspired”.. Frito-Lay food-like substances are acknowledged to be merely INSPIRED BY real foods.

  9. What about all the other unnatural things used to produce crops? Do you consider tissue culture natural? Taking a piece of plant and putting it in gel with hormones to regrow another plant from a big callus of cells? That’s used in agriculture too. Sometimes they even select somaclonal mutants from the cell mass to be used in plant improvement programs. What about inducing mutations? Lots of wheat and citrus fruit, among others, have been bred by hitting the plants/seeds with radiation or mutagenic chemicals to produce desirable traits. What about grafting? Clearly, taking two pieces of plants and putting them together isn’t natural. What about wide crosses and embryo rescue, crossing two things that can’t produce a viable seed then removing the embryo and culturing it into a full plant? Think those stonefruit hybrids are natural? What about induced polyploidy? That’s not natural either. How are any of those natural? These techniques are used in plenty of crops, including those used in organic products. Heck, even human made crops, like corn, wheat, broccoli, strawberries, and tangerines, aren’t natural if you want to be strict about it. Neither are any of the selectively bred crops, which is pretty much all of them. If GE can’t constitute being natural, why does everything else get a free pass? This lawsuit sounds very biased and inconsistent.

  10. I wasn’t trying to imply otherwise, just that those same standards would put pretty much every other ‘natural’ product out there in the same category.

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  13. The should have added the term: All Natural Genetically Modified” which of course is a joke. I am not surprised the FDA, USDA let them get away with it: Plus it is the FCC’s job to monitor fake claims. This is all government sponsored, after all their clients are corporations, not consumers.
    We need to start our own Consumer Government. The real one.
    Thanks for posting, I will be Re_Tweeting it constantly.

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  16. Around 2001, Frito Lay made a pledge to stay 100% GMO-free. I always liked those tasty corn chips, and one day a few years ago I noticed there was no longer a GMO free sign on the package, and when I looked online I could find no evidence there had ever been one. But I know there was!

    • now that’s interesting

      • Margaret Bartley

        This is a big problem with on-line history – it can be rewritten at a moment’s notice. I’ve noticed a number of articles that appeared in the LA Times in the past few years that have completely disappeared from their search engine – even if I put in the exact day and title.

        We’re all going to have to start downloading articles that are of interest to us. I don’t know how we’ll deal with forgeries, though.

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  22. Thank you, Julie and the lawyers at Millberg LLP!! Great article. Now I know, Frito Lay uses GMO’s.

  23. my sister found this article

    Not the first lawsuite

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  35. I used to work for a small frozen baked product in the quality assurance department. QA people are treated as nuisance; marketing people will do whatever they want including labeling products as “all natural” when they are using GMO canola oil. I have to quit, they made my life miserable for standing up.

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  38. Lets put all FDA employees that say GMO products are ok to serve to the public on a GMO only diet! Soon after we can stop this GMO B.S. with out any question. Really… Does the FDA really think this is taking care of the tomorrow? or are they looking at the today? Its like legal murder! Would somebody please at the FDA act like a Adult and ask them selves am I a Man or a uninformed child?

  39. Keep the info coming! Thank you!!!!

  40. Interesting to read. If they think GMO’s are okay, maybe they should read the article I read earlier. It discusses the mutations and sicknesses that animals who are fed GMO corn are suffering from. Hum… feed it to us, feed it to the animals who we then eat. We are getting a double whammy. Thats why I try to eat organic and only eat free range grass fed meat.
    Frito lay also uses Red dye 40 in thier stuff. I has been linked to cancer and ADHD. My grandaughter has that, guess where her other grandfather works. She eats a ton of the crap because he is always bring it home. Sigh you can’t trust large companies to be concerned with anything, but how much they can put in their pockets.

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