McCormick has announced plans to “significantly increase the number of organic and non-GMO offerings in 2016.” And, based on the spices already on the shelves, this will be at a significant price increase. We looked at a few McCormick spices and found that organic oregano was $5.19 and regular was $3.29. And organic basil was $5.99, while conventional was $3.39 for an even bigger bottle.
And what are consumers getting for all this money? Scammed! Both organic and conventional crops are sprayed regularly: just with different sprays, and the organic plants are usually sprayed more often, because the organic-approved insecticides are much less effective.
And, as Bruce Ames pointed out in a classic PNAS paper, most plants make their own carcinogenic insecticides, and they are present at a level 10,000 times that of any applied insecticide. Further, since spices come from all over the world, it is barely credible that the baroque organic rules can be enforced uniformly.
Finally, McCormick also is making a big deal of their spices being “non-GMO,” even though there is not a shred of evidence that GM crops pose any sort of harm despite being in use for nearly 20 years. But what does this mean? There are no GMO version of any spice plant!
It seems that this all comes down to vanilla. Not vanilla extracted from vanilla beans, but vanillin, the synthetic version of the principal component of vanilla flavoring. Vanillin can be synthesized in a number of ways, and one us through the use of synthetic biology, in which yeast are bred or designed to create vanillin by fermentation. The process was developed by the Swiss company Evolva, in partnership with International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF).
Now, if the bacteria Evolva/IFF use are genetically modified, some paranoid consumers might think that the pure vanillin the bugs produced is somehow “genetically modified.” This is chemical nonsense, of course, vanillin is a simple 8-carbon compound and easily purified such that its precursors do not matter. While the GMO Compass organization believes that vanillin so produced would not have to be labeled because it is the same, pure compound, Food Navigator reports that it would not qualify for the “non-gmo” stamp. This seems to be more of a theological than a scientific dispute.
The Motley Fool has a good summary of the business considerations in making vanillin using biotechnology.
Meanwhile, McCormick, ever ready to trash science in the name of gouging consumers decided to use vanillin in the artificial vanilla products that was not produced using biotechnology.
Just yesterday we learned of a hedge fund weasel, Martin Shkreli who bought up rights to the 62-year old drug Daraprim, and raised its price from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill for no good reason except to line his pockets. This, frankly, is little different than what McCormick is doing, trading on consumer ignorance and the fictional organic halo created by lobbyists, recognizing that fear sells.