GMO Labeling Laws Need Fine Tuning

Food products should not be labeled as “non-GMO” if there is no GMO counterpart for that product.

That was the measure approved by delegates at the annual American Farm Bureau Federation convention this month. Measures approved by the nation’s largest farming organization ranged across a series of topics important to agriculture, from crop insurance to trade to immigration. The measures taken up at the national convention start at the county level before being approved at the state level.

This from the blog “The Farmers Daughter” by Amanda

Organic Farmland in Short Supply

Enter “Certified Transitional”

By U.S. Department of Agriculture (Fall Line Farms; cooperative, co-op; Richmond, VA.) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By U.S. Department of Agriculture (Fall Line Farms; cooperative, co-op; Richmond, VA.) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The growing demand for organic produce in the U.S. is outpacing supply. Since it takes a minimum of three years to certify a field as being ‘Organic’, there are many fields in transition to that coveted status. In the interim, the crops from that field (at least in the past) sold at commodity pricing. The USDA and the Organic Trade Association (OTA) have allowed farmland in transition to be labeled as such, allowing the farmer to sell such an identity-preserved crop as ‘transitional’, thereby getting a higher price for the harvest. One can read the details of the OTA’s recommendations in this report. This is not intended as an opportunity to categorize a field as perpetually in transition; the intent is for the categorization to last for the 2nd and 3rd years of the transition to organic status. Clarkson is an example of one farm that is embracing the ‘transitional’ designation. I’m sure there will be an uptick in its use, given the increase in demand for organic, identity-preserved crops.

Dairy Farmers Upset
About Non-GMO Labels

GMO labeling
By Copyright © 2004 David Monniaux (Own work) [CC BY-SA 1.0 or CC BY-SA 2.0 fr], via Wikimedia Commons
According to an article by Tara Duggan of the San Francisco Chronicle, dairy farmers on both sides of the aisle are angered by the increase in “Non-GMO” labeling being used on dairy products. The organic farmers, understandably, are concerned that such labeling will undermine the organic brand. Milk labeled “non-GMO” does not have to have been produced using sustainable practices, or in the absence of pesticides or other chemicals. The worry is that the public will give the non-GMO branding the same weight as “organic”, which is not at all the same thing.

On the other hand…

Conventional farmers are concerned that their product will be thought of as “Frankenfood”, even though there are no GMOs present in the milk itself. The genetically altered material does not find its way into the milk. And for that matter, GMO corn is only used as a supplemental feed for cows. For the most part, dairy cows are fed grass. The bottom line is that this is a marketing ploy, with no health benefits to anyone. In fact, cows which are fed non-GMO feed are likely to ingest more potent pesticides than their GMO-fed counterparts, due to the fact that the GMO food likely is produced with stronger pesticides (than the roundup used with GMO feed).

Does Label Law

By Edible_fungi_in_basket_2012_G1.jpg: George Chernilevskyderivative work: Ak ccm [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By: George Chernilevskyderivative work: Ak ccm [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
If you haven’t had the chance to check out the recent ammendment to the 1947 Agriculture act, here is a pdf: mandatory-labeling-bill. Recently, a version of a mushroom that was developed using the CRISPR technology was designated non-GMO. The recent amendment  would appear to counter that decision however. The wording appears to include ALL genetically altered foods in it’s description of bioengineered foods:

‘‘(A) that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques; and ‘‘(B) for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.

CRISPR technology does not introduce foreign DNA into an organism. What it does is trigger mutations that exist within the genome already, essentially genetic what-ifs. This would satisfy item (B) in the above quote of the amendment, but NOT item (A) since it does use in-vitro recombinant techniques. However, the law also sets a timeline of 2 years for the Secretary of Agriculture to come up with a standard for disclosure concerning bioengineered foods, the amount of bioengineered material that must be present, etc. I think it’s fairly clear that CRISPR will be part of that list, but there may be some leeway.

Sugar in a Tight Spot

By jenlightFloNight at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.0], from Wikimedia Commons
By jenlightFloNight at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.0], from Wikimedia Commons
Between the U.S.’s reduced need for sugar (replacements are in full bloom) and the new requirement to label GMOs, the sugar business is in a downturn. Since sugar imports are produced from beets that are grown from GMO seed, technically it can’t be labeled as non-GMO, despite the fact that chemically it is identical to sugar from non-GMO beets. The particulars of the new labeling law are still being ironed out so it remains to be seen how this will turn out. See this Food Dive article about Mexican sugar imports.