Mintel reported GMO and non-GMO (EU) as a top trend seen at IFT’s annual Food Expo, and for good reason. Genetically Modified Organisms have been headlining news in the last few months as the debates over use and labeling escalate.
In July 2014, Popular Science published a pro-GMO article; “Core Truths: 10 Common GMO Claims Debunked.” The US House Agriculture Committee conducted a hearing on the societal benefits of biotechnology. Jerry Greenfield announced on the steps of the Capital Building that Ben & Jerry was renaming an ice cream flavor and donating money from sales to support Vermont in upholding a GMO labeling act.
Earlier this year, Cheerios removed GMO ingredients from their original formula but indicated no additional changes will be made on the rest of their line. GrapeNuts also launched with a Non-GMO Project Seal. Whole Foods announced they would no longer carry Chobani Greek Yogurt because of milk sourced from GMO fed cows, as the grocery chain works to reduce non-labeled GMOs within their store by 2018.
Food service is also focusing on GMO. Chipotle reported in April, in explanation of a 5% price increase, that their menu is nearly GMO-free with tortilla reformulation to finish by the end of the year.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO or GM), also known as bioengineered ingredients or transgenic plants, have been altered using technology to place genes with desired characteristics into the genome of a specific crop. The technology is seen in feed and food crops including corn (EU), soy (EU), canola (EU) and cottonseed (EU). The desired characteristics include increasing robustness against pests or harsh growing conditions or biofortification where a key nutrient is synthesized by a crop that normally doesn’t contain as much or any of the nutrient at all. Examples of biofortification include Golden Rice, which was never commercialized, and a new banana fortified with vitamin A which is being tested now for potential commercialization.
GM in Europe; To use, or not to use:
The EU allows GM use for some food products, and requires labeling for products with a content of GM more than 0.9%.
The debate around GM use in Europe can be simplified as consumer and environmental safety vs. the necessity to utilize this technology to efficiently produce food. Scientific data to date indicates that these products are no more harmful to the environment or consumer than conventional crops. Yet, the amount of GM actually grown in the EU is limited to one crop in a handful of countries.
In June 2014, the European Council of Environment Ministers approved a GM Draft Directive that would allow individual countries to ban GM based on “environmental reasons, socioeconomic reasons, land use and town planning, agricultural policy objectives and public policy issues.” The European Parliament and Council is expected to review the directive for approval later this year.
Earlier this year in France, activists continue to destroy GMO research crops. With a recent ruling setting a precedent by acquitting activists who burned GM grape crops in France in 2010, destruction of GM research may continue which will hinder studies.
GMO in the US; To Label or Not to Label:
The FDA reviews all new GMO products for safety before it is marketed. However, while the FDA has guidelines on volunteer labeling, in the United States it has not been mandatory. Several states, including California and Washington, have recently voted on mandatory labeling with the measure being defeated. Vermont (May 2014) has passed a law requiring GMO labeling which will go into effect in 2016. This Vermont law is currently being challenged with a lawsuit.
Two federal bills have been introduced earlier in 2014.
- H.R. 4432 Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014
- Establishes premarket notification requirements to allow case by case labeling as required
- Would prevent states from individually requiring labeling
- Would establish a new natural claim
- 2. S. 809 Genetically Engineered Food Right-To-Know Act
- Would require foods containing GMO to be labeled as such
Labeling products with GMO status could give consumers the choice in whether to consume or not. Organic standards prevent GMO use, so consumers can currently rely on that distinction to identify foods that are non-GMO. However, an argument against labeling is that by mandating a GMO status consumers will misinterpreted the label as an admission or warning that that GMO is harmful. Labeling could also set a precedent that consumer perception is valued more than scientific work which shows that GMOs are safe. Logistically, there is also concern on different laws between each state. Finally, another layer is assessing how GMO animal feed will factor into the dairy and meat industry labeling.
A challenge to mandatory labeling is how to quickly determine GMO status of a food. Published in Analytical Chemistry earlier this year, a new analytical test out of China, called MACRO, uses DNA of known patterns to identify 97.3% of the known GMO and can potentially provide the information to enable food processors to monitor and report GMO in their products. However, new enzyme technology that allows GMO products without trace eliminates of the original carrier DNA may make GMO hard to detect.
The International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) consumer perceptions survey shows a polar split for American consumers about biotechnology with 28% favorable, 28% unfavorable, and 43% neutral/not enough information. Also noted in the study was a higher level of acceptance with Millennials (18-34) for bioengineered foods with “nutrition and health related benefits” like oils higher in Omega-3 fatty acids (EU).
The final outcome of GMO use and labeling is undefined at best. The GMO confusion is far from finished, and formulators may start to look into label requirements or formula modification to understand how their product fits as the GMO debate continues.
2014 IFIC “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology” Survey (16th edition)
Article 7/11/14 Popular Science; Core Truths: 10 Common GMO Claims Debunked
Article 7/11/14 Kansas City InfoZine; Ben & Jerry’s Joins the Food Fight for GMO Labeling
Press Release; Whole Foods Market© Commits to Full GMO Transparency
Article 7/8/14 NPR, The Salt; Globe Trotting GMO Bananas Arrive for Their First Test in Iowa
Article 6/30/14 Mintel News; 4 Tasty Takeaways from the IFT Annual Meeting and Food Expo
Article 6/19/14 Chemistry World; EU plan to let member states decide on GM
Article 6/17/2014 Business Week; French Rapeseed Destroyed as Mutated Crop Trials Targeted
Article 6/13/2014 Food Business News; G.M.A. suing Vermont over G.M.O. law
Article 5/22/14 Food Business News; To Label or Not to Label
Article 5/21/2014 Nature; Uproar as Anti-GM Vine Activists Acquitted in France
Article 4/25/14 The Daily Meal; Chipotle Now Virtually GMO Free
Article 3/15/2014 Reuters; France bans Monsanto GM maize ahead of sowing season
Article 2/18/2014 Food Business News; General Mills Says No to Formulating More GMO-free Products
Article 1/17/2014 Food Business News; GrapeNuts Go GMO-free
Article 12/22/13 Analytical Chemistry; MACRO: A Combined Microchip-PCR and Microarray System for High-Throughput Monitoring of Genetically Modified Organisms
Article 12/19/2013 Food Business News; Whole Foods to Drop Chobani Greek Yogurt
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