GMO Roundup: Whole Foods Market, Pope Francis Top GMO News

GMO Roundup: Whole Foods Market, Pope Francis Top GMO News
Source - Presence Marketing November 2016 Newsletter                                              
Author - Steve Hoffman

Whole Foods Market Updates Progress on GMO Transparency

To mark national Non-GMO Month in October, Whole Foods Market released a progress report on the retailer’s GMO labeling policy. First announced in 2013, “We are well on our way to providing GMO transparency for the food we sell by our self-imposed deadline of September 1st, 2018,” writes President and COO A.C. Gallo in a company blog published on October 10th. While QR codes are a labeling option in the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law, signed by President Obama on July 29th, 2016, “This is absolutely unacceptable for our policy,” Gallo writes. Also, in a modification of its original announcement, made to align with the new federal law, says Gallo, Whole Foods Market will not require suppliers to label ingredients derived from animals fed GMO feed; that is, a food product that contains a meat or dairy ingredient but does not contain any other risk ingredient will not be subject to a labeling requirement. Whole Foods Market requires all non-GMO claims on products sold in its stores to be verified by approved third-party verification programs including the Non-GMO Project, NSF True North and USDA Certified Organic (and equivalent international programs.) “Part of our current focus is working closely with suppliers and manufacturers to help meet our GMO Labeling Policy,” Gallo writes. 

Pope Francis Questions GMO Crops, Urges Action on Climate Change

Pope Francis called into question the role of GMO crops in his annual message on World Food Day on October 16th, reported Catholic Culture Magazine. In a letter to the head of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Pope said, “There is a growing number of people who believe they are omnipotent, or able to ignore the cycles of the seasons and to improperly modify the various animal and plant species, leading to the loss of variety that, if it exists in nature, has and must have its role.” Pope Francis contrasted the “wisdom of rural communities” with “the logic of consumerism and production at any cost, a logic that, cloaked in good justifications, such as the increasing population, is in reality aimed solely at the increase of profit.” In his message to the FAO, the Pope also said, “Genetic selection of a quality of plant may produce impressive results in terms of yield, but have we considered the terrain that loses its productive capacity, farmers who no longer have pasture for their livestock, and water resources that become unusable? And above all, do we ask if and to what extent we contribute to altering the climate? Not precaution, then, but wisdom: what peasants, fisherman and farmers conserve in memory handed down through the generations and which is now derided and forgotten by a model of production that is entirely to the advantage of a limited group and a tiny portion of the world population. Let us remember that it is a model which, despite all its science, allows around eight hundred million people to continue to go hungry.” 

Adjusting to Demand, Cargill Announces First Non-GMO Project Verified Ingredients

As demand for non-GMO food rises, Cargill has obtained Non-GMO Project Verification for three of its food ingredients, including erythritol, cane sugar and high oleic sunflower oil. Annual sales of Non-GMO Project Verified products increased from $348.8 million in 2010 to more than $19 billion as of March, 2016. According to Packaged Facts, demand for non-GMO products is expected to grow 12% annually through 2018. With nearly 2,800 Non- GMO Project Verified brands sourcing ingredients to comply with the standard, food and beverage industry demand is outpacing supply, said Cargill in a statement. “Consumer demand for non-GMO food and beverages is growing, and Cargill is responding,” said Mike Wagner, Managing Director for Cargill Starches and Sweeteners North America. “We’re delighted to work with the Non-GMO Project, the leading verifier of non-GMO products in the United States. Their distinctive trademark is the most recognized symbol for non-GMO products in the country.” Collaboration with Cargill, one of the largest food companies in the world, is an opportunity to increase the availability of non-GMO foods to consumers, said Megan Westgate, Executive Director of the Non-GMO Project. “The Non-GMO Project’s mission is to preserve and build sources of non-GMO products, educate consumers, and provide verified non-GMO choices. Achieving this mission requires participation by companies of all sizes, including supply-chain leaders like Cargill that can provide large-scale availability of non-GMO food ingredients,” she said. 

Okanagan Gains Approval for Third GMO Apple Variety, But Will It Be Labeled? 

British Columbia biotech company Okanagan has gained U.S. approval for its genetically engineered, non-browning Arctic Fuji variety. The Fuji apple joins the non-browning GMO Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties developed by Okanagan, using a new gene editing technology known as CRISPR/Cas-9, a technology that labeling proponents fear will not be subject to labeling disclosure under the new federal GMO labeling law, which requires only older, recombinant genetic engineering technology to be labeled. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of USDA granted the non-browning Arctic Fuji approval in late September, reported Food Safety News on October 5th. As part of the review process, the agency sought public comment on the genetically modified organism (GMO). By the mid-September deadline, 626 comments had been filed with APHIS, with those against approval outnumbering those in favor by about 10 to 1. Among those commenters opposed to the GMO apple was the Center for Food Safety, which attached a letter signed by more than 25,000 of its members opposing the apple, reported Food Safety News. Okanagan says it plans next to seek approval for genetically modified Gala apples. 

UVA Study: GMO Crops Increased Use of Herbicides on U.S. Farms by 28% 

In one of the longest studies ever conducted of genetically engineered crops, researchers found that GMO crops increased the use of herbicides on U.S. farms by 28%, reported Organic Authority. Researchers at the University of Virginia examined data over a 14-year period from 5,000 soybean and 5,000 maize farmers in the U.S. The GMO soybean and maize farms each comprised two GMO varieties – one pest-resistant variety, and one herbicide- tolerant variety. The researchers found that while the use of insecticides decreased by about 11% on GMO farms due to the pest-resistant varieties of the crops themselves, use of herbicides, mainly glyphosate marketed by Monsanto as Roundup, increased by more than twice as much due to herbicide- resistant GMO seeds. “In the beginning, there was a reduction in herbicide use,” said University of Virginia economist Federico Ciliberto, who led the research team. “But over time the use of chemicals increased because farmers were having to add new chemicals as weeds developed a resistance to glyphosate.” 

Canadian Groups Call on Competition Board Over Bayer-Monsanto Merger

Bayer AG’s proposed $66-billion, all-cash deal to acquire Monsanto will face a number of political and antitrust hurdles over the coming months, as well as consumer unease in the U.S. and abroad around the consolidation of multinational agriculture, chemical and biotech corporations and the future of food production. The Monsanto-Bayer deal, which would be the largest-ever all-cash acquisition, faces intense and lengthy regulatory processes in the U.S., the E.U. and elsewhere, reported Reuters. In Canada, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, a farmer’s group, and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, a group of 17 non-GMO organizations, separately submitted comments to Canada’s federal Competition Bureau to review the possible implications of Bayer’s pending takeover of Monsanto. “Our position right now would be for the Competition Bureau to really...examine what the impact is going to be and making sure that there’s fair pricing and competition in the marketplace, Ron Bonnett, President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, told CBC News. "This merger could further increase the price of seed, decrease choice in the marketplace for Canadian farmers, and stifle research and development," said the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network’s submission to the Canadian Competition Bureau, reported CBC News in late September.                  

China Vying for Control of GMO Technology

In the past month both the New York Times and Bloomberg News have focused on China’s ambitions to become a major player in genetically modified food. However, at the same time Chinese consumers have become increasing suspicious of GMO foods. Food safety issues continue to plague China, and there is widespread belief that GMOs are a foreign conspiracy against Chinese health, reported Bloomberg News. Yet, one of China’s state-run companies, ChemChina, is vying to acquire Swiss agricultural biotech giant Syngenta for $43 billion, which would make it China’s largest foreign purchase ever, reported the New York Times. China is increasing spending on research and development and supporting a nascent domestic industry that it hopes can someday become China’s answer to Monsanto and DuPont. In a 2013 speech, Xi Jinping, the country’s president, said, “We can’t let big foreign companies dominate our GMO crops market.” According to the New York Times, Chinese officials see GMO science as a way to bolster production in a country where large-scale farming is still uncommon – a legacy of the Communist Revolution, when land was stripped from landlords and given to peasants – and better feed its growing and increasingly affluent population on its own. 

The New GMOs 2.0: Will They Be Labeled? 

Silenced genes, edited genes, algae engineered to produce compounds that taste like food: new genetically modified organisms (GMOs) made with these experimental techniques are making their way to your dinner plate. It’s the next wave of genetic engineering, or GMOs 2.0, reports Stacy Malkan, Co-Director of US Right to Know and author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. In a Huffington Post interview featuring Consumers Union Chief Scientist Dr. Michael Hansen, Malkan warns that vague wording in the new federal GMO labeling law opens the door for industry pressure on the USDA to exempt many – possibly even most – GMOs from labeling at all. Read Stacy’s article, GMO 2.0 Foods Coming Your Way: Will They Be Labeled?, here.