Labeling

By • December 07, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article in the Financial Times about the global acceptance of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

Genetically modified crops are continuing to spread across the world’s agricultural land. Last year they covered a record 185m hectares, 3 per cent up on 2015. Experts are anticipating another small increase this year, though the authoritative annual GM survey by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) will not appear until next spring.

These modified crops are still distributed very unevenly. They are found predominantly in the western hemisphere.

The US and Canada are the heartland of biotech crops, while South American countries are adopting them rapidly — especially Brazil, where the GM area grew by 11 per cent to 49m hectares last year. Europe remains steadfast in its opposition to GM food, with just 136,000 hectares cultivated in the EU (0.07 per cent of the global total). While Asia was quick to adopt GM cotton, it too has been reluctant to accept GM foods.

“China has been very slow to approve GM products for many years,” says Erik Fyrwald, chief executive of Syngenta, the Swiss agricultural group that was recently bought by ChemChina. But he sees signs of change: recently, the Chinese government approved imports of some GM crop varieties and Mr Fyrwald expects approvals for cultivation in China to follow. Mr Fyrwald is not optimistic about a change of heart in Europe, however.

“In Europe we are unlikely to see GM crops for many years to come,” he says, because of intense opposition from consumers and environmental groups. “We’re not pushing [genetically modified organisms]. It is not our priority to spend money and effort to try to convince European consumers to encourage their politicians to start accepting GMOs,” Mr Fyrwald says. “We’re better off providing GM technology in countries that want it.”

To read the entire article, please visit the Financial Times

By • December 04, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article at Ag Daily summarizing six key points about the new food documentary Food Evolution. 

If you have the opportunity to see the documentary “Food Evolution,” do it. It has been the most talked-about food and agriculture film of the year — and rightfully so. The movie examines one of the most important tools in today’s agricultural industry, genetic engineering technology, and shows the emotion and divisiveness created by three small letters: G-M-O.

It’s a movie about the science of farming, and the filmmakers said they approached this project with no preconceptions and with a level playing field in the GMO discussion. After seeing the film Tuesday night during a screening at Ferrum College in Southwest Virginia, I understand why detractors have labeled this as GMO propaganda — truthfully, you can’t be pro-science and avoid being pro-GMO. So yes, the film shows GMOs in a favorable light. It respects science and technology. It would be a disservice to play down the consensus among the scientific community and how widely celebrated genetically engineered traits are for drought tolerance, disease resistance, and the ability to feed the hungriest among us.

I enjoyed this film immensely, as did most of the 100 or so people in attendance at the screening, and it affirmed much of what I understand about biotechnology and agriculture in the modern era. So much has already been said about the movie (just look here and here and here), and because of any perceived or actual confirmation bias I may have, I’m not going to write a review, per se, but I will share six takeaways I have after seeing this film:

  • Food is an emotional issue
  • You have a tribe if you’re pro-GMO
  • It’s cool be an ag nerd

To read the entire article, including details about all six takeways, please visit the Ag Daily website

By • November 03, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an opinion piece on Forbes.com by Phil Lempert explaining consumer confusion about the labeling of food that contain ingredients from genetically engineered crops. 

Two new surveys come to the same conclusion: The average American shopper is clueless when it comes to having an understanding of what is a genetically modified organism (GMO).

A new nationally representative Food Literacy and Engagement Poll ― which is part of [email protected], a new initiative based in Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources ― finds more than one-third of Americans do not know that foods with no genetically modified ingredients contain genes. Forty-six percent of poll respondents either don’t know whether they consume GMOs or believe they rarely or never do. The other major surprise in the survey is that most of the people who stated this incorrect answer were young and affluent, and described themselves as having a higher-than-average understanding of the global food system.

Boy, are we in trouble.

Another study that was conducted by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Purdue University and was just published in the journal Applied Economics: Perspectives and Policy was designed to examine just how much shoppers might pay for non-GMO foods. The researchers found that “consumers are also confused between food labeled as 'organic' and 'non-genetically modified.'"

While the study, a national survey of 1,132 respondents, found that respondents would pay 35 cents more for apples that were labeled "Non-GMO Project" and 40 cents more for those labeled "USDA Organic," there was a frightening finding: When it came to granola bars, the same respondents were willing to pay 35 cents more for a box of 12 bars that were labeled "Non-GMO Project" and 9 cents more for a box marked "USDA Organic."

As the University of Florida wrote about the study, "genetically modified material is not allowed in food labeled 'USDA Organic,' while 'Non-GMO Project' means the food has no more than 0.9% GM characteristics."

While one could argue the sample size is small, it points out that people don’t read labels carefully and may not be able to distinguish between labels.

To read the entire article, please visit Forbes.com

By • October 31, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article on Quartz, addressing the growing concerns over non-GMO food labels

We’re surrounded by information about the health and nutritional benefits of different food, but a lot of it conflicts—and it’s leaving people more confused than ever about how to make healthy food choices. Should we eat all organic? Does our food need to be natural, and fresh? One recent fad is to avoid genetically modified food.

GM food has negative connotations for many consumers because of general mistrust of the food production industry, but also because anti-biotech activists have been so effective at stoking concerns. It’s led to an sharp increase in non-GMO labels, even on products like salt, which can’t be genetically modified because sodium chloride is an inorganic compound that doesn’t contain genes.

But non-GMO labels do more than placate people concerned about scientists secretly tinkering with their food. They might persuade people to make a poor food choice. That’s because genetically modifying food can actually make it safer, by limiting the need for, say, pesticides. According to Pam Ronald, who studies genetics at the University of California, Davis and whose husband is an organic farmer, farms going non-GMO to meet consumer demand are causing major damage.

“These non-GMO labels have proliferated, and they’re really a problem,” Ronald told Quartz. “Because there’s no regulation, they can just spray anything they want. So what’s happening is… they’re going back to using [far] more toxic compounds. And I think that’s really a disservice to the consumer to market it as somehow being more healthy—when of course, it’s not, and it’s also more harmful to the environment.”

To read the entire article, and watch a video about non-GMO labels, please visit the Quartz website

By • October 30, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an review by Brooke Borel in Scientific American reviewing the new documentary, Food Evolution

As a journalist who covers biotechnology, this raised a question: Just what is the purpose of documentary films that center around controversial science? Are they for entertainment or education? And if entertainment is prioritized over education, can a 90-minute film dutifully explore a topic as dense and politically fraught as genetically engineered food?

It’s an increasingly important question as genetic science advances and the ethics surrounding it get ever more complex. With CRISPR’d humans and gene drives that may shape entire ecosystems on the horizon, the need for accurate and contextualized storytelling will only grow. These technologies will provide compelling fodder for filmmakers. But how will they cover human embryos that scientists have altered by CRISPR or the next generation of GMOs? What will a documentary about the first publicly released gene drive organism look like—and whose voices will that documentary include?

There’s a lot to lose if the entertainment industry mangles this research or omits key perspectives in the name of a good story. On one hand, an unfairly critical view can spark public backlash, which can strangle innovation and halt projects and products ranging from new ways to curb disease to crops that can better withstand climate change. On the other, an overly rosy view cuts out legitimate concerns and critiques of that same technology.

Food Evolution is just one of the latest documentaries to delve into one facet of the GMO debate while presenting itself as a more comprehensive take on the issue. Another recent release is Island Earth, which follows several Hawaiians—including a young scientist studying biotechnology and chemistry—as they struggle to understand the impact of the technology on their islands. The takeaway is that although GMOs may be safe in a narrow sense, there are broader implications for how the technology is wielded as a form of modern-day colonialism. It’s a perspective that is too often omitted in conversations about modern technology. At an Island Earth screening in Brooklyn, just a few days after Food Evolution’s theatrical release, an eager audience seemed just as convinced by this narrative.

To read Borel's entire review, please visit the Scientific American website

QIve seen several commercials about a non GMO vitamin brand. How can vitamins be GMO and is this just pandering to people's fears?

Ive seen several commercials about a non GMO vitamin brand. How can vitamins be GMO and is this just pandering to people's fears?

AExpert Answer

Vitamins can be made from natural or synthetic substances and can also involve the use of bacteria, some of this can be derived from genetically engineered substances. Find more information here.

 

In order for a supplement to be "non-GMO" the manufacturer or brand that uses the vitamins would have to be able to trace multiple aspects of how the vitamins are made. If the supplement manufacturer elects to use "non-GMO" sources and label their product with the "non-GMO project" label it could be more expensive than others. There is no proof that "non-GMO' vitamins are more or less efficacious than their "GMO" counterparts. 

 

In some cases when brands seek to become "non -GMO" project verified, rather than utilize "non-GMO" vitamins, they simply eliminate vitamins altogether so that they don't have to add to the cost of the product. See this article from NPR on how this happened for cereals. 

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