Organic labels in the US

How do GMOs end up in organic food?

By Shawn Ingraham, 25th of July 2010

USDA organic label

The need to label organic foods is obvious in today’s world, however in order to create a labeling system a government must create a set of standards.  In 1990, under George H.W. Bush, the United States of America did just that with the Organic Food Production Act.  Foods bearing this label could not contain synthetic pesticided herbicides and fungicides, antibiotics, growth hormones, sewage sludge, artificial fertilizers, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and irradiation.  Americans could now easily shop and avoid putting all these contaminants into their bodies.  It was all very positive for most but to one group of people this created a problem.

To large corporate food producers, non-organic food was an easy way to put cheep (and highly profitable) food onto the market, and in their view, organic food would make non-organic food look undesirable.   Local food producers now had an advantage which could not be tolerated, so the corporations scratched their heads and came up with a plan.  Their plan was based on two principals: 1. Socially conscience shoppers interested in their health would be willing to pay more for food,  2.  The word organic had a legal definition and legal definitions can be changed.  If the corporations could create a social demand for organic food while at the same time changing the definition of what organic legally meant they could actually turn this entire problem into a huge profit for themselves.  To no surprise they succeeded.

In 2006, the United States government, now under George W. Bush passed the Agricultural Appropriations bill.  The argument was made that many non-organic foods tasted the same and offered the same nutrition as their organic counterparts and it was unfair to label them differently.

“The concept of “substantial equivalence” means that if a GM crop looks like its non-GM equivalent and grows like it, then it is assumed to be the same, and no safety testing is needed before people eat it. GM maize may have added virus and antibiotic resistance genes, and a gene that makes it express an insecticide in every leaf, stem and root – but to the US government it looks and grows like maize, so it is safe to eat.”[i]

Who were these corporations? Kraft, Dole, Dean Foods/Horizon, Whole Foods Market, Wild Oats, Aurora, Smucker, and General Mills.[ii] Some of these companies should not come as a surprise.  Kraft, who is owned by Phillip Morris a leading cigarette producer, most famous product is an instant macaroni and cheese in which the cheese comes in a powered form and turns into “real” cheese once water is added.  This product now features the standard produce as well as a higher priced organic version and yes, the cheese is still in powered form.  One company on the list that might surprise some people is Whole Foods.  Whole Foods is a chain of supermarkets that only sells organic and natural foods.  Their involvement in the Agricultural Appropriations bill forces one to question if they are dedicated to the organic food movement, or simply a corporation seeking a profit.

Corporations claim that keeping GMO and GMO-free foods separate is too much of a challenge for them.  It may be difficult to keep the product lines separate but it is already being done, because of strong European interest in Organic and GMO-free food farms keep them separate and use the GMO-free products for the European markets.  Currently 70-75% of process foods sold in the United States contain GMO ingredients and continue to go unlabeled.[iii]

In 2008 the Corn Refiners Association began a propaganda campaign called “Changing the Conversation about High Fructose Corn Syrup.”  According to the campaigns website:  “The goal of the campaign is to dispel myths and correct inaccuracies associated with this versatile sweetener and highlight the important role high fructose corn syrup plays in our nation’s foods and beverages.”[iv] The website also cites studies that have found high fructose corn syrup to have little difference to table sugar.  However, the evidence is not as conclusive as they lead one to believe.  Other studies have found table sugar and high fructose corn syrup to have similar effects only in someone who already consumes too much sugar and for those who are in the physical condition comparable to an Olympic swimmer.[v] Richard Johnson, a researcher at the Univeristy of Colorado also points out that “table sugar… enters the body with the glucose and fructose molecules bonded together. Enzymes in the gut have to separate them.  But with high-fructose corn syrup, the two sugars are not bonded, so there are different absorption characteristics, he says. “So it’s theoretical that it could lead to differences in manifestation of metabolic syndrome and other conditions. And we’re studying that.”[vi]

To put the danger of high fructose corn syrup into perspective our friends in the insect community can be some assistance.  A number of commercial beekeepers fed high fructose corn syrup to their hives hoping it would increase reproduction and the production of honey.  The beekeepers however found that when the bees were exposed to high temperatures the bees would die.  It is not yet known but some researchers believe that high fructose corn syrup could be one of the causes in Colony Collapse Disorder.  Colony Collapse Disorder is a disease which led to the death of one-third of the honeybee population in the United States.[vii]

Some companies continue to work hard to keep GMO ingredients out of their food.  Cliff Bar is a product on the American market aimed at cyclists, rock climbers and hikers.  The bar is ideal for use while taking part in these activities when a traditional meal is not an option.  The product featured a label that claimed it contained no genetically modified soy.  Randy Erickson, vice president of manufacturing, at Cliff Bar sent the product out for testing to verify this claim.  The test came back positive.  Although the test only found a very low level of GM soy Erickson wanted a product that was 100% GM free.  The company began working very hard to find which ingredient was coming back positive and eliminate it.   They spent tens of thousands of dollars but came up with no solutions.  Cliff Bar eventually gave up their struggle of producing a product that was 100% GMO free and settled on producing a product that contained less than one percent of GMOs.[viii]

There is hope on the horizon for Americans however the light is still dim. If the government refuses to label items with GMOs, that does not prevent products without GMOs to be labeled as such. And that is exactly what the Non GMO Project is doing. It is a non-profit agency that has created its own standards of labeling foods.   In some states there are restrictions on non GMO labelling.  Kansas has restricted the labeling entirely while Ohio has placed restrictions on labelling.  In Ohio labels such as rBGH-free are not allowed whereas labels such as “from cows not supplemented with rbST” is permissible.  In Pennsylvania and Indiana however, any legislation to ban or restrict labelling has failed.  To no surprise Monsanto is behind the efforts to ban labelling.  They have created the American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology (AFACT) as a public relations firm to create negative opinions on labelling.[ix]











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