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Plant Based Food Sales Outpacing Overall Food Sales by 10X

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, September 2018
August 28, 2018
By Steven Hoffman

Plant-based food sales are growing like a weed. According to a new Nielsen study commissioned by the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA), sales of plant-based foods grew a whopping 20% in the 52 weeks ending June 16, 2018. “The growth is significant, especially compared to the sales of all foods, which grew just 2%, so plant-based foods dollar sales are outpacing dollar sales of all retail foods by 10X,” says PBFA. Sales of plant-based milks grew 9% vs. -6% growth in cow’s milk; and sales of plant-based meat products grew 24% compared to 2% growth in animal meats. Other standout categories included plant-based creamers, which grew 131% over the same period last year; plant-based yogurts (55% growth) and plant-based cheeses (43% growth). Learn more here.

Glyphosate Found in 95% of Foods Containing Conventionally Grown Oats

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, September 2018
August 23, 2018
By Steven Hoffman

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer and the most heavily used pesticide in the history of the world, has tested positive in 95% of oat-based foods, including popular breakfast cereals, oatmeal, granola and snack bars, according to independent laboratory testing commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Of 45 conventional products tested, glyphosate residues were present in 43, and 31 of those products contained levels higher than what EWG scientists consider safe for children. The herbicide, also used as a pre-harvest desiccant on cereals and grains, is so pervasive it also showed up in 31% of food samples made with organic oats, although EWG reports the organic foods tested at levels “well below EWG’s health benchmark.” In August, a California jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million in damages to a former groundskeeper who claimed his cancer was caused by repeated exposure to glyphosate. To view EWG’s chart of oat-based foods tested, visit here.

Farmers to Trump on Tariffs: “Trade, Not Aid”

Photo by  Compass Natural

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, August 2018
July 26, 2018
By Steven Hoffman

In early July when President Donald Trump imposed trade tariffs on imports of commodities including steel and aluminum, the nations singled out by Trump, including China, Canada, Mexico and the EU, struck back, targeting food producers across the U.S. with stiff retaliatory tariffs on exports of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, sorghum, pork, poultry, fish and a number of nuts, fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products including bourbon, orange juice and dairy products. 

Asked to be patient in a speech to Iowa farmers on July 26, U.S. farmers are bearing a disproportionate brunt of Trump’s trade war. Feeling the financial pain, the patience of America’s heartland farmers – a bastion of support for President Trump – is wearing thin in a trade war Trump promised would be “easy to win.”

In an attempt to alleviate the economic impact to farmers as a result of his own trade policies, President Trump on July 24 promised $12 billion in emergency aid to farmers, using a depression-era assistance program to put a band aid on the immediate pain American farmers are feeling as a result of the U.S. imposed tariffs and subsequent trade retaliation by China, the EU and others.

But some Republicans and farmers are not buying it. Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker in a statement called Trump’s trade policy “incoherent” and the administration “was offering welfare to farmers to solve a problem they themselves created.”

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) said in a statement, “This trade war is cutting the legs out from under farmers and the White House’s ‘plan’ is to spend $12 billion on gold crutches. . . .America’s farmers don’t want to be paid to lose — they want to win by feeding the world.”

Sen. John Kasich (R-OH) said that President Trump was resorting to “farm welfare” when what American farmers really want is the administration to stop imposing tariffs. American consumers will feel the pinch both ways under the proposed bailout strategy in the form of higher costs for foods due to the higher tariffs, and also the $12 billion emergency aid for farmers will end up coming from U.S. taxpayers.

Relief from an EU Deal
In a move that could provide some relief to U.S. soybean producers, President Trump on July 25 announced a deal with EU President Jean-Claude Juncker that would remove tariffs on a number of industrial goods in trade between the U.S. and the EU. In a hastily scheduled joint press conference on the White House lawn, Trump declared that European countries would be buying “a lot of soybeans” from American farmers. In a campaign-style speech on July 26 in Iowa, Trump told a group of farmers, “We just opened up Europe for you farmers. You’re not going to be too angry with Trump, I can tell you,” he said.

However, existing tariffs still remain in place and the U.S.-EU announcement did nothing to resolve Chinese sanctions on U.S. soy, pork and other farm products. In response to Trump’s trade tariffs, China in early July imposed a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybean exports and also placed tariffs on U.S. corn, wheat, sorghum, pork, beef, nuts, fruit, vegetables and many other agricultural products. Mexico is also levying a 20 percent tariff on U.S. pork in response to Trump administration trade sanctions, as well, Agri-Pulse reported.

“If the price of soybeans goes down, farmers will have less to spend on new equipment. And equipment makers such as Caterpillar and John Deere will (eventually) have to raise the price of equipment due to steel tariffs,” Chicago trade attorney R. Kevin Williams said in the Chicago Tribune. “Eventually it will have an impact on the economy.”

“Patience is wearing thin on U.S. pork producers because the next six months of market prices – there’s a lot of red ink. We need the administration to come to these deals quickly,” Iowa hog farmer Gregg Hora told ABC News.

“We would prefer trade not aid,” said Dave Struthers, who grows corn and soybeans and raises hogs in Iowa, in a July 25, 2018, Bloomberg News report. “We’d like to see things figured out on these trade issues.”

According to Bloomberg, agriculture is the third-largest U.S. export industry. American farmers export approximately one-third of their annual production. According to Bloomberg, that generated an estimated $21 billion trade surplus this past year, however, that is now under threat after China imposed tariffs on U.S. soybeans and other agricultural products.

Impact on Natural and Organic Producers
But farmers are not the only ones affected by the administration’s trade wars. Packaged goods manufacturers, too, are beginning to feel negative effects. When the Trump administration placed tariffs on Chinese goods with an annual trade value of about $200 billion, roughly 1,300 products were impacted. The additional taxes will ripple through supply chains, reports CNN Money, compelling businesses in the U.S. and China to decide whether to absorb costs or raise consumer prices. 

CNN Money published a list of food products impacted by the trade tariffs here. Eater also published a list of foods subject to tariffs, by country, here.

Closer to home, Arnold Coombs, Director of Sales and Marketing for Bascom Maple Farms, the largest supplier of maple syrup and maple sugar in the U.S., and a seventh-generation Vermont maple sugar maker, puts it this way:

“While selling maple to Canada is like selling ice to Eskimos, we do sell some maple syrup and maple sugar to manufacturers there. We will lose a little under $1 million in sales. The bigger issue for us will be the U.S. withdrawal from the TPP. Unless this is reversed or another agreement completed, we will lose close to $9 million in sales. 

“One more trade issue for us is CETA, the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. The tariff on Canadian maple is gone while there is still an 8 percent tariff on U.S. maple. This has essentially taken us out of the EU market with a loss of $4-5 million in sales. I doubt that we will have an agreement with the EU in the near future.

It seems that just when we had a good grasp of developing new export markets, the U.S. government got in the way and threw up some roadblocks. Ultimately, this hurts the U.S. farmer, as we will have to buy less syrup from them. That’s not the direction we want to go.”

Leading organic dairy producer Organic Valley’s CEO George Siemon added:

“Our dairy business will be mainly affected by the conventional market being harmed. Our own sales will not be that affected, as we do not export that much to the countries with tariffs. No matter how well we manage an organic dairy pool you end up with some conventional sales; thus a lower conventional price due to tariffs will hurt our income from those sales.” 

Dietary Supplement Products “Ensnared” in U.S. – China Trade War
With many nutritional product manufacturers sourcing ingredients from China and the world over, supplement makers are feeling the pinch of a 10 percent to 25 percent import duty on a range of ingredients including minerals, animal and plant proteins, sweeteners, hemp seeds, phytosterols and other ingredients.

According to Natural Products Insider, online trading resource IngredientsOnline.com has complied a list of more than 180 ingredients that could be affected by the trade tariffs. "Keep in mind this is just the beginning; we're hearing the tariffs can range from 10 percent to 25 percent. It's obvious this will have a tremendous effect on not only the industry but on consumers as well,” said Peggy Jackson, VP of sales and marketing for IngredientsOnline.com.

Among a list released in July of Chinese goods facing tariffs of 10 percent or more were a number of specifically named herbs and botanicals, as well as what American Herbal Products Association President Michael McGuffin described as a “catch-all” category that could include a number of herbal ingredients and a separate designation that could impact certain forms of minerals used in dietary supplements.

In addition, importers may choose to buy up raw materials before tariffs take effect, and “all of a sudden the supply-demand equation is no longer balanced and the costs are going to go up,” McGuffin told New Hope Network.

Generational Effects…Or Patience?
Robert Leonard, News Director for Iowa radio stations KNIA and KRLS, claims in a New York Times Op-Ed that President Trump’s trade war will hurt farm business at a time when the rural population is aging, and that it could accelerate the hollowing out of farm communities. “Mr. Trump recklessly opened trade wars that will hit ‘Trump country’ – rural America – hardest and that have already brought an avalanche of losses. Indeed, the impact of his tariffs will probably be felt by family farms and the area for generations,” he wrote.

Yet, President Trump argues that his proposed emergency farm aid bailout is only temporary. Eventually, he argues, the trade war will pay off—farmers will no longer need taxpayer help. “The farmers will be the biggest beneficiary [sic]. Watch,” he said. “We’re opening up markets. You watch what’s going to happen. Just be a little patient.”

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.

Photo: Compass Natural
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 edition of Presence Marketing News. 

National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive Launched

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, July 2018
By Steven Hoffman

A rich trove of video interview recordings featuring pioneers and legends of the sustainable and organic agriculture movements has been unveiled by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) at the University of Minnesota.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive captures interviews from such luminaries as poet, author and farmer Wendell Berry; Jill Auburn, former program leader of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture; organic agriculture policy advocate Roger Blobaum; Kate Clancy of the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health; Environmental Working Group president and cofounder Ken Cook; former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin; Land Institute founder Wes Jackson; Kathleen Merrigan, Director of Sustainability for George Washington University; and others.

“Through a series of video-recorded interviews, this oral history archive documents the development and evolution of public policies to advance sustainable and organic agriculture going back to the 1970s. The women and men whose stories were recorded for this archive are among the key leaders and advocates who played significant roles in devising and promoting the laws and government programs that continue to undergird efforts to achieve a sustainable farming and food system in the United States,” said Ron Kroese, senior fellow in the Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems at the University of Minnesota and project leader for the Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive.

To view the complete collection of video interviews, visit https://www.misa.umn.edu/publications/sustainableagoralhistoryarchive.

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.

Hawaii Becomes First State to Ban Pesticide Found to Be Harmful to Children

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, July 2018
By Steven Hoffman

More than a year after the Trump administration denied a petition to ban the controversial pesticide chlorpyrifos, the state of Hawaii on June 13 became the first U.S. state to ban this widely used pesticide, found to be linked to severe developmental problems in children and other significant health risks.

Under Senate Bill 3095, signed into law by Gov. David Ige after it was unanimously approved by the state legislature, pesticides containing chlorpyrifos will be prohibited throughout Hawaii beginning Jan. 1, 2019. Businesses will be able to apply for a three-year extension to meet the new regulations, reported Huffington Post.

The new law also prohibits the spraying of pesticides within 100 feet of schools during normal school hours. According to The Garden Island, the law also provides $300,000 from the Pesticides Revolving Fund for staffing, education and outreach plus funding to monitor and study pesticide drift at three schools in the state.

“This was a law that was years in the making. Its time had come,” Hawaii state Sen. Russell Ruderman told The Garden State. “We have been guided by the belief that we must always put our keiki (Hawaiian word for children) first. On that we should all agree.”

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.

Sustainable Palm Oil Awareness Campaign, Set for September 2018, Brings Industry, Consumers Together to Celebrate the Positive Side of Palm Oil

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, July 2018
By Steven Hoffman

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Mission-based educational platform Palm Done Right is enlisting industry and public support to help change the conversation about palm oil, and ultimately, how palm oil is produced, by launching the first annual National Palm Done Right Month in September 2018. 

Done right, palm oil can be grown sustainably in a way that positively supports people, communities and the environment, say the event organizers and brand partners supporting the Palm Done Right initiative. The choices manufacturers and consumers make can help drive more responsible practices in the conventional palm industry and grow the market for sustainably and organically sourced palm oil, helping to support smaller scale producers. 

Throughout the month of September, National Palm Done Right Month events and activities will galvanize the natural products industry, gain retail, manufacturer and consumer support, and build awareness around responsibly sourced palm, while also celebrating current partners supporting the Palm Done Right initiative. 

Retailer support is a critical aspect of spreading the Palm Done Right message and Palm Done Right Month is a call to action. “Retailers play a key role in the natural products industry as gatekeepers to a pathway for their customers who want to improve their lives through healthy food and lifestyle choices and gain a better understanding of where their food is coming from. Through their support as Palm Done Right partners, we will broaden our message and help highlight the brands that use responsible palm oil in their products,” says Neil Blomquist, organic industry pioneer and spokesperson for Palm Done Right.

Retailers and others can sign-up to receive a Palm Done Right Month tool kit, engage customers and activate change with the goal of creating an industry-wide movement at http://www.palmdoneright.com/en/become-a-retail-supporter/.

National Palm Done Right Month is organized by Natural Habitats USA, based in Boulder, CO, leading positive change in the palm oil industry by proving that palm oil can be grown for good. This approach demonstrates that palm oil grown organically, with third-party certifications, can preserve the environment and native species, bring positive economic support to local communities and create sustainable livelihoods for all stakeholders. The Palm Done Right initiative aims to connect the benefits of organic, responsible palm oil, with brands, suppliers, manufacturers, media and consumers, to change the conversation about palm oil and bring positive impact to scale. For more information, visit www.palmdoneright.com.

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.

Industrial Hemp Derived CBD, Other Hemp-derived Products May Soon Become Legal throughout the U.S. Under the 2018 Farm Bill

Photo by  Compass Natural

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, July 2018
By Steven Hoffman

Industrial hemp and full spectrum extract products derived from hemp, popularly known as “CBDs,” referring to products rich in hemp-derived cannabinoid compounds, may become recognized as legal throughout the nation if the 2018 Farm Bill advances with the inclusion of the Hemp Farming Act sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and a bi-partisan group of supporters including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). 

The Hemp Farming Act, which has now been attached to the Senate version of the 2018 Farm Bill - expected to become law this year - would permanently legalize hemp in the U.S. 

The Farm Bill passed the Senate Agriculture Committee on June 13 with a 20-1 vote, with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) being the sole “no” vote after his amendment to exclude hemp extract products was not included in the proposed farm bill. The vote moves to the Senate floor, but hemp industry and CBD advocates warn that Sen. Grassley may yet attempt to negotiate elements of his amendment into the 2018 bill, and that the industrial hemp industry needs to remain vigilant.

Hemp industry watchdogs are concerned because the day before the Senate Agriculture Committee vote, Sen. Grassley filed an amendment to the 2018 Farm Bill which seeks to redefine hemp to exclude “derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, from Cannabis Sativa L.” The purpose of the amendment as stated in the document is, “To modify the definition of the term ‘hemp’ and to require the Attorney General to make a determination as to whether cannabidiol should be a controlled substance and listed in a schedule under the Controlled Substances Act and to expand research on the cannabidiol and marihuana [sic].”

Currently, growing industrial hemp is legal on a federal scale only for research purposes or if it’s under a pilot program in select states that have legalized it. According to Jonathan Miller, the general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, an industry advocacy group, the proposed Farm Bill includes the ‘Hemp Farming Act’ sponsored by Sen. McConnell and endorsed by 25 other senators.

According to Sen. McConnell, the Farm Bill is scheduled to be voted on by the end of June. From there, it must then go to the U.S. House of Representatives for further consideration. “The House may not pass it, and it might not include hemp in their bill, said Miller in a statement. But, if it passes with the current language, then, hemp-derived CBD would be legal from a federal perspective.”

However, observes Fresh Toast, a cannabis lifestyle publication, “This will only be the case if President Trump signs the bill into official law. In the past, President Trump hasn’t publicly expressed his views on hemp. Last week though, the President told various reporters that he supports ending the federal ban on marijuana. If President Trump stays true to his word, the move would be historic because it would result in removing the substance from its current Schedule I classification. Although the President has expressed his views to end the federal ban on marijuana, his attorney general, Jeff Sessions has quite the opposite view.”

One thing is certain: if industrial hemp becomes permanently legalized in the U.S. through passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, it will be a boon to farmers, natural products retailers and marketers, and consumers seeking more natural alternatives for health.

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.

USDA Drops Organic Checkoff Marketing Program

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, June 2018
By Steven Hoffman

Citing “uncertain industry support for and outstanding substantive issues with the proposed program,” USDA in May 2018 terminated a proposed organic checkoff national marketing program. The measure, backed by the Organic Trade Association (OTA), would have assessed producers to pay for the program, raising at least $30 million per year.

The organic checkoff program, called by OTA “GRO Organic (Generic Research Promotion Order for Organics), would have been under the supervision of USDA, as are research and promotion orders for other commodity crops and marketing programs such as “Got Milk.” 

Organic producers and handlers with sales over $250,000 would have had to pay one-tenth of one percent of their net organic sales into the marketing fund, according to the proposal. Importers also would have paid into the system, and smaller producers could opt in to take part. However, growers and handlers with gross revenue of less than $250,000 would have been exempt from contributing funds to the marketing program.

The announcement came as a surprise to the OTA, the organization that originally petitioned three years ago for the program. “It came as a complete surprise – the last we’d understood was, based on the precedent from previous checkoffs, we thought we’d cleared the threshold, OTA Executive Director and CEO Laura Batcha told FeedNavigator. “We were very, very surprised – it was incredibly unexpected,” she said.

“It is not lost on folks that the same week they terminated the organic program – they launched a proposal for GMO labeling that has a smiley face on it,” Batcha added. “At face value that does not appear like a level playing field – and USDA should be in the business of promoting choices for farmers, not in the business of picking winners and losers,” she said.

However, not all organic industry advocates supported the organic checkoff program. There have been questions regarding the effectiveness of other product checkoff programs and their benefit to small producers, along with questions about the way funding is managed, noted Mark Kastel, co-director of consumer advocacy group Cornucopia Institute.

“The proposed Organic Research and Promotion Program would have required all certified organic operations, even those exempt from the checkoff itself, to submit annual gross sales reports. All entities whose organic gross sales exceed $250,000 would have been mandated to pay 0.001% of their annual organic net sales,” said the Organic Farmers Association (OFA), based in Kutztown, PA. Jennifer Taylor, Vice President of OFA and a certified organic farmer in central Georgia added, “Organic farmers already fulfill a heavy load of annual paperwork for their organic certification. Additional federally mandated paperwork would have been overly burdensome, especially for the 75 percent of certified organic farmers estimated to be exempt from the checkoff,” she said.

OFA says it does agree with OTA and other organic industry stakeholder groups that organic research and promotion are necessary and needed by the whole community, and looks forward to finding creative solutions that serve all constituents in growing the market for organic foods.

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.

Organic Food Sales Top $49 Billion in 2017; Accounts for 5.5 Percent of Overall U.S. Food Sales

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, June 2018
By Steven Hoffman

When the Environmental Working Group reported in April 2018 that conventionally grown apples contain on average 4.4 toxic, synthetic pesticide residues, some at high concentrations that don’t wash off, more and more consumers are getting the clue that the old adage has changed: “It’s the organic apple a day that keeps the doctor away!”

So many consumers are buying into organic these days, in fact, that overall sales of organic foods will soon top $50 billion. According to the latest data released in May 2018 from the Organic Trade Association (OTA), sales of organic products totaled $49.4 billion in 2017, reflecting an increase of 6.4 percent and new sales of nearly $3.5 billion over the previous year. 

Sales of organic foods grew the same – 6.4 percent – to $45.2 billion, and sales of organically produced non-food products increased 7.4 percent to $4.2 billion.

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The growth rate for organic food sales was short of the 9 percent growth recorded in 2016, “impacted by markedly slowed growth in the big organic dairy and egg category,” said the OTA in a release. However, organic food sales were well above that of the overall food market, which barely grew at 1.1 percent. “Organic continued to increase its penetration into the total food market, and now accounts for 5.5 percent of the food sold in retail channels in the U.S.” OTA said.

This year’s annual survey marks the 20th year OTA has released data tracking the organic industry’s growth. Widely regarded as the most comprehensive look at the retail organic sector in America, the survey first measured organic sales in 1997. That year, organic food sales were pegged at $3.4 billion; 2017’s sales of over $45 billion reflect a growth of nearly 15 times. In the last decade alone, the U.S. organic market has more than doubled in size, reports OTA.

Fresh fruit and vegetables continued to be the largest organic food category, posting $16.5 billion in sales and 5.3 percent growth over 2016 sales. Another category standout was organic beverages, with fresh juices driving 10.5 percent growth to sales of $5.9 billion in 2017. Nonfood items grew significantly, including organic fashion and fiber, which grew 11 percent to $1.6 billion, and organic dietary supplements, the sales of which increased 9 percent in 2017. 

“Organic has arrived. And everyone is paying attention,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association. “Our survey shows there are now certified organic products in the marketplace representing all stages of the life cycle of a product or a company—from industry veterans to start-ups that are pioneering leading edge innovation and benefits and getting shelf space for the first time. Consumers love organic, and now we’re able to choose organic in practically every aisle in the store.”

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.

Whole Foods Market Delays GMO Labeling Deadline for Suppliers

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, June 2018
By Steven Hoffman

In an email sent to suppliers in May 2018 from Whole Foods Market President and COO A.C. Gallo, Global VP of Merchandising Don Clark and Global VP of Procurement for Perishables Karen Christensen, the world’s largest natural products retailer announced the company has decided to postpone the rollout of its GMO Labeling Policy.

The company’s leaders cited concerns from suppliers about complying with both Whole Foods Market’s upcoming policy deadline, originally set for Sept. 1, 2018, and the USDA’s proposed GMO labeling rules just introduced this past month, dubbed the federal Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, as the reason for the delay.

In 2013, Whole Foods announced it would require all food producers who wished to sell products in its stores to include labeling that discloses the presence of any GMO ingredients. Whole Foods had previously announced that it would require suppliers to label products that contain genetically modified (GMO) risk ingredients and were not third-party verified as non-GMO or organic.

“While the proposed [USDA] rule speaks to requirements for disclosing a bioengineered food, it is silent on requirements for making an on-label non-GMO claim,” the email said. “Given the uncertain details of the federal regulation, we do not expect the verification of non-GMO claims on existing branded products by the previously communicated September 1, 2018, deadline.” Whole Foods’ executives further stated, “Once there is a better understanding of the final federal regulation, we will be able to provide further updates and timelines.”

In a May 22, 2018, statement to Food & Wine Magazine clarifying its position, Whole Foods added, "As the USDA finalizes the Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard and the food industry assesses the impact, we have decided to pause on our September 1, 2018, deadline for our GMO Labeling Policy. We remain committed to providing our customers with the level of transparency they want and expect from us and will continue to require suppliers to obtain third-party verification for non-GMO claims."

In a separate document, Whole Foods noted that it will continue to require suppliers in all categories to acquire third-party verification by a Whole Foods-approved program for “non-GMO” claims on their package labels. Approved vendors include The Non-GMO Project, NSF Non-GMO True North or the USDA Organic program, reported Project Nosh.

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.

USDA’s Proposed “Bioengineered” Labels, featuring Nature and a Smiling Sun, Give Impression that GMOs are Healthy, Environmentally Friendly

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, June 2018
By Steven Hoffman

USDA in May issued a proposed rule to implement legislation requiring some form of GMO ingredient label disclosure on food packaging. 

Officially named the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS), the 106-page proposed rule provides definitions on what is considered a bioengineered ingredient, suggestions on how to disclose those ingredients and the scope of exemptions available under the law. For example, food products produced from an animal that ate GMO – or what USDA now refers to as “bioengineered” – feed do not require label disclosure. Food service establishments and very small food manufacturers are also exempt, reports legal firm Keller and Heckman. Foods certified under USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) also are not subject to GMO or “BE” disclosure.

Comments on the proposed rule are being accepted through July 3, 2018, and should be submitted as directed in the Federal Register document, published on May 4, 2018.

In addition, USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service announced an informational webinar to provide an overview of the background, provisions and potential impacts of the proposed bioengineered food standard, available on AMS’s website.

USDA’s proposed GMO or “Bioengineered (BE) symbols include scenes of nature and a smiling sun, intimating that GMOs are healthy and environmentally friendly.

USDA’s proposed GMO or “Bioengineered (BE) symbols include scenes of nature and a smiling sun, intimating that GMOs are healthy and environmentally friendly.

USDA’s proposed rule addresses federal legislation passed in 2016 to create a national GMO labeling standard in an effort to prevent individual states from passing their own GMO labeling regulations. As a result of the federal legislation, Vermont’s law to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered ingredients, which took effect in 2016 for a brief period of time, was overturned in favor of the national law.

USDA’s proposed standard defines “bioengineered” food as food “(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.”

According to organic industry observer Max Goldberg, publisher of Organic Insider, “This does not give us any clarity about whether GMO 2.0 technologies, such as gene-editing, synthetic biology and RNAi, will be covered under this rule. Second, a GMO-disclosure rule should make it clear and easy for consumers to know whether a food is genetically modified or not. The truth is that most people have no idea what ‘bioengineered’ means, and using this seldom-used, scientific term is confusing to consumers. Even the USDA itself was content to use the term ‘GMO labeling’ on its own website up until a few months ago,” he said.

Foods that need to be labeled are broken down into two proposed lists:

  • Bioengineered foods commercially available in the U.S. "with a high adoption rate,” i.e., genetically modified varieties are planted or produced more than 85% of the time. This would include such foods as canola, corn, cotton, soybean and sugar beet, and can be labeled as "Bioengineered food” or “Contains a bioengineered food ingredient.”
     
  • Bioengineered foods commercially currently available in the U.S. "with a low adoption rate,” including such foods as apples (non browning), papayas, potatoes and squash (summer varieties). These can be labeled as “May be a bioengineered food,” “Contains a bioengineered food ingredient,” or “May contain a bioengineered food ingredient.”

According to Goldberg, companies will have three options to disclose the presence of bioengineered foods: text, symbol or QR codes. However, he says, QR codes are inherently discriminatory since nearly 100 million Americans do not own a smartphone. Plus, USDA’s proposed bioengineered symbols, “which are supposed to be neutral, give off the impression that bioengineered foods are healthy,” he says.

Additionally, Goldberg warns, under the proposed rule, “Organic foods can be labeled as ‘Non-GMO’ or ‘Not BE.’ This is very problematic and poses an enormous risk for organic. While genetic modification is prohibited in organic production, this does not mean that organic foods are free from GMO contamination.”

Comments Talking Points
Comments on the proposed GMO labeling rule are being accepted through July 3, 2018, and can be submitted via regulations.gov. Goldberg recommends including the following talking points among your comments:

  • The term "bioengineered" should not be used. It is both misleading and confusing to consumers. "GMO", "GE" or "Genetic Engineering" should be used instead. These are terms consumers are familiar with and understand.
  • All forms of genetic engineering should be disclosed, including gene-editing, synthetic biology and RNAi.
  • All highly processed foods, such as genetically engineered oils, syrups and sugars, should not be excluded from labeling.
  • Any symbol that represents "bioengineered" should be neutral and not contain a smiley face or a sun, or a nature scene.

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.