Staying alert in non-G.M.O. labeling

by Jeff Gelski
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Non-G.M.O. wheat
The U.S.D.A.’s G.M.O. labeling rule may include details on highly processed sugars and oils.
 

KANSAS CITY — The new G.M.O. labeling law might have some influence on what ingredients and foods qualify as non-bioengineered/non-G.M.O. Highly processed sugars and oils are examples.

The G.M.O. labeling law, known as the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, was signed into law on July 29, 2016. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is scheduled to publish a final rule by July 2018.

The Just Label It campaign, which advocates for the labeling of G.M.O. foods, wants the final rule to include refined sugars and oils, adding that all foods with ingredients derived from forms of genetic engineering should carry G.M.O. disclosures.

The U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Marketing Service has the authority to cover highly refined sugars and oils in the G.M.O. labeling law, said Craig Morris, Ph.D., deputy administrator for the A.M.S. livestock, poultry and seed program, on June 27 in Las Vegas at IFT17, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and exposition.

“We haven’t asked for a new ruling on that yet,” Dr. Morris said. “However, that is very clearly one of the issues that we are dealing with. We understand the limitations in detecting genetic material in highly refined sugars and oils.”

Chart: Why people seek non-G.M.O. labels
 

Randal Giroux, vice-president of food safety, quality and regulatory for Minneapolis-based Cargill, said, “Some do not want the U.S.D.A. to require products be disclosed unless genetic material is detected, but there are several limitations in the ability of existing techniques to accurately detect and quantify genetic material once a raw agricultural product like corn, soy or canola has been processed.”

He said there would be significant technical challenges in implementing a standard based on food ingredient testing.

Processing aids could be another concern. MGP Ingredients, Atchison, Kas., offers wheat-based ingredients. Wheat by U.S. law must be non-G.M.O. Yet the company has received Non-GMO Project verification on several wheat-based ingredients.

“The question is simply, are any processing aids or other ingredients being used that are needed to produce the wheat product that may not be ‘non-G.M.O.’ in status,” said Michael Buttshaw, vice-president of ingredient sales and marketing. “The answer could potentially impact the overall ‘non-G.M.O.’ integrity of the product. Each company must do their own assessments in this area and make their determinations while following the federal guidance and regulations around ‘non-G.M.O.’ compliance.”

Companies may submit the full composition of wheat-containing ingredients to obtain the Non-GMO Project verified seal, which provides a comprehensive, unbiased and transparent third-party verification for compliance with Non-GMO Project standards, said Ody Maningat, Ph.D., vice-president of ingredients R.&D. and chief science officer for MGP Ingredients.

“While there is no G.M.O. wheat commercially grown in the U.S., all of MGP’s native and specialty wheat starches, and many of our specialty wheat proteins, are Non-GMO Project verified to provide additional assurance of their non-G.M.O. status,” he said. “Non-G.M.O. claims are important for our North American and international customers who manufacture flour-based foods such as bakery, pasta, noodles, breakfast cereal and various snack products.”

Unlike wheat, more than 90% of the soybeans grown commercially in the United States are G.M.O., but non-G.M.O. soy is available. Paul Lang, general manager of Natural Products, Inc., Grinnell, Iowa, said offering non-G.M.O. soy ingredients is not a problem for his company.

“For over 20 years the sellers and marketers of non-G.M.O. products and grain have had systems to be able to sell to Japan, Korea and the E.U.,” he said. “The good news is that the U.S. farmer, the seed industry, the freight system and the processors are capable of hitting the tolerances necessary to sell to other countries that have limits on G.M.O.s. NPI tests every single incoming load of grain for G.M.O. contamination. Most other processors have similar programs as well. Since the grain is usually grown under contract, the farmers are careful every step of the way to ensure identity preservation.”

Mr. Lang said he would like to see the U.S. G.M.O. labeling law also cover the labeling of ingredients and products promoted as non-G.M.O.

“In our opinion, it is time for the U.S. government to set guidelines for non-G.M.O. labeling,” he said. “It mirrors what happened in the organic industry. Before the N.O.P. (National Organic Program), there were many certification companies with slightly different rules. It made it hard to comply with so many different agencies. If the U.S. regulations are reasonable and also consistent with the rest of the world’s standards, this should be a win-win for everyone.”

NPI is already under the U.S.D.A. PVP (Process Verified Program), which allows the company to use the U.S.D.A. label under the claim of “non-G.M.O. at a 99.1% detection level.”

“This is already a great program and monitored by the U.S.D.A.,” Mr. Lang said.

Kate Huston, director of government relations and policy for Cargill, also would like to see the U.S. government regulate non-G.M.O. labeling.

“Because there is no government standard for non-G.M.O. ingredients and products, ingredient suppliers and food companies selling non-G.M.O. products are basing claims on a variety of standards, including both third-party and individually developed standards,” she said. “We believe industry and consumers would benefit from a clear, consistent standard. If the government were to establish a federal non-G.M.O. standard, not all products currently marketed as ‘non-G.M.O.’ would necessarily comply. A federal non-G.M.O. standard would also enable alignment of G.M.O. definitions, eliminating the risk of conflict between what requires disclosure as genetically modified and what could be called non-G.M.O.”

Keeping up with government regulation could be pivotal in G.M.O. labeling, as well as non-G.M.O. labeling.

“Each organization will need to determine how best they comply with the new guidance regarding labeling and how they are managing the messaging today with consumers and end customers,” Mr. Buttshaw said. “We stay very close to experts within the industry and who are close to the agency sources in Washington, D.C., to provide best practices for MGP Ingredients, Inc.”

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