Certified Transitional Farming: Impact On Eating Organic

The challenges of organic farming have been an area that I have covered in previous articles on other related subjects such as GMO, pesticides, the seed market, and the overall food supply. The transition of farmland that has been devastated by pesticides, herbicides, and other agricultural chemicals is an involved process.

The certified transition process identified by QAI (Quality Assurance International), is frequently a three- year endeavor by the farmer in order to properly prepare the land to produce organic crop yields. The larger farming operations can afford the significant financial outlay to convert the land from what is known as a conventional farm into an organic farm.

However, the small and mid-sized farming operations, such as family owned farms with smaller yields, could easily struggle with the burdensome costs especially on the front end which becomes a deterrent for overall agricultural land use reform toward organic farming in America. The QAI goal of organic farming growth found that the overall acreage of transitional land use for organic food production could be enhanced by financial incentives underwritten by corporations and other interested parties.

The organization also determined that if a farm had at least 51% of their total usable crop space being verified as “in transition”, then that farm could use the QAI seal for transitional organic farming on their products. This helps to raise awareness of the transition process, it helps the farmer because it provides visibility as well as profitability to aid the transition, and it helps the consumer because they are purchasing a product that will benefit them while ensuring that more organic products can be made in the future. It is the definition of a “win-win scenario”.

The estimates available from the USDA state that only 1% of all farmland in the United States is suitable for organic farming. This is a shocking statistic for many who have not closely followed this situation. My prior work has detailed the destruction of the soil used in farming by GMO containing seeds, dangerous pesticides, and harmful herbicides. These products have caused destruction to bees, birds, and other wildlife as well as being linked to several different types of illnesses in humans.

The trend toward organic eating, the utilization of organic cleaners, and the use of organic products for personal care use is a positive development in America over the past decade to fifteen years. That change notwithstanding the organic product pipeline cannot be sustained or made scalable for the long term without an increase in usable farmland.

The process for being Certified Transitional is difficult and the steps become increasingly demanding as the farm moves through the stages from year 1, 2, and 3. The optimal goal is to have each farm “graduate” into certified organic status by the end of year 3 in the process. The people at QAI achieve this by surprise audits and random sampling of crop yields to ensure that the organic transition is following the proper protocols. It should be noted that QAI is a USDA accredited organization.

The organization also has consultants that can help the individual family run farms or medium sized farms with the application process for the Certified Transitional program. The farm will be inspected at least once per year for the three- year transition process. The QAI certification personnel will review the inspection reports and have a procedure where any deficient areas can be reviewed and resolved with follow up type visits. The final step would be to have the organic certification awarded once all the requisite steps are completed.

The involvement of certain companies, such as Kashi, helps farmers with the cost of transitioning their land to organic use. Most of those farms would be unable to participate in the process based solely on the financial commitment needed to move forward through the three years of increasingly rigorous standards required to earn the organic certification.

The commitment by Kashi to source ingredients from farmers that are participating in the Certified Transitional program helps provide much needed financial resources to the individual farms through the process. The QAI inspections and the verification of the day-to-day operations of each farm in the program is an expensive scenario for the farm, especially the front-end cost.

The farms in the transitional program cannot use GMO seeds or any type of chemical agents in their farming practices. This can be challenging for a farm in transition because the cost of organic seeds can be prohibitive. The vast majority of seeds for staple crops such as corn, wheat, soybean, and sugar beet are genetically modified in some way.

The certified transitional farms that have agreements to be ingredient suppliers with major food producers such as Kashi, have some help in offsetting the costs of the process. This is imperative in the U.S. where autoimmune disease, celiac disease, and other types of cancers are on the rise. The ability for gluten free, organic products to become more mainstream will help drop the price points on certain products so they can be more affordable for people across all economic backgrounds.

The Certified Transitional farming process is a bold step in the right direction for the future of organic food availability in our country for decades into the future.

Bayer Announces End To Monsanto Name After Merger

The mega merger between Bayer and Monsanto was approved last week by the U.S. Justice Department ending months of anti-trust scrutiny. Bayer will have to sell off an unprecedented $9 billion in industry assets in order to clear the regulatory hurdles and the deal is expected to close on Thursday.

The news on Monday was that Bayer will end the Monsanto name after the merger due to the negative public image it has with consumers. The news is not surprising given the backlash Monsanto has received for years from the American public and the farming industry.

The news that the merger was going to move forward is a surprise to many people, the companies are both huge and have very diverse product portfolios. However, those product portfolios are clustered in the same types of industries especially when comparing the agriculture products holdings of both companies.

Therefore, that necessitated the big sell-off of assets by Bayer to make this merger happen. The precedent for a merger this large to actually be approved will have a tremendous impact on future M&A activity.

The Bayer – Monsanto merger will clear the path for mega-mergers to take place in other industries in the future. This is a merger that makes Dow-DuPont look small and that is a frightening prospect.

In my view I think the “Big Pharma” industry and the major media companies are going to try to capitalize on this merger with attempting to push through M&A proposals of their own in similar scale. The biotech field could also use this merger as an example of precedent for their own consolidation activity.
Furthermore, this merger between two titans in the agricultural industry will have an impact on the Disney bidding war with Comcast over the remaining assets of 21st Century Fox. That is a big decision that federal regulators will eventually have to make which will have an impact on the consumer who spends time watching TV or movies.

The Bayer – Monsanto deal is far more significant because, even though the Monsanto name is being erased from history, the products they manufacture will remain. The brand names such as Roundup will remain active and the merger with Bayer will not change anything, it is business as usual. This is bad news for the consumers, the farmers, and just about everybody.

Monsanto has built a negative public perception and an even worse brand image on the unabashed manufacturing of pesticides, herbicides, weed killers, and GMO containing seeds for food crops. The company has continued to make products that have been linked to certain cancers, autoimmune diseases, asthma, autism, and a host of other maladies.

The perception of Bayer in the U.S. is one that largely is shaped by the eponymous brand name of aspirin that is very popular as well as Alka Seltzer and some other branded products in the drug store channel. Those brands enjoy a largely positive image in America, and in my conversations with many people about this topic another theme came to the surface.

That theme is that German companies have a perception of integrity and for producing goods of high quality. The people I spoke with had the impression that Bayer would “turn around” Monsanto and that European influence would be for them to start making organic, environmentally friendly, and non-GMO containing seeds.

Unfortunately, from all the public statements we have from Bayer in Germany that will not be the case in this merger. They plan on keeping the U.S. headquarters for the new conglomerate in St. Louis, and they plan to continue to make those same products that Monsanto is producing currently. This is not to imply either that Bayer lacks integrity or that European companies are losing that sense of common values because that would be an inaccurate generalization.

Bayer is a microcosm of society: it creates some things that make the world better and it creates some things that make the world worse. It is also a perception versus the reality, some people feel that GMOs are safe and that having a good-looking lawn is more important than not using chemicals on the grass.

That strategic direction may surprise some people, especially Americans, but it is to be expected. Bayer will inherit brands from Monsanto that make billions of dollars in revenue each year. The American consumer and the farmers lose out here because this merger creates less competition in the seed and other agricultural products areas. The American consumer loses because the GMO and genetically altered food fight just became more difficult to win.

In the end, Bayer might enjoy a positive public perception in America right now, but it remains to be seen how that might change in the months and years ahead. The name Monsanto might be retired from the ranks, and Twitter is going to take the place of Monsanto in the S&P 500 this week, but Bayer is now tied to the legacy that Monsanto has built, and it is a rather negative one at best.

Bayer has made statements that they plan to “engage the consumer in new ways” I have no idea what that means. I do know that it does not include the discontinuation of Roundup or any of the other harmful chemical products produced by Monsanto.

This merger will have a direct impact on the American food supply, on the prevalence of genetically engineered ingredients in food, and on the future of mega-mergers. The effects of this merger will be seismic and will be felt for a long time to come.

Tip Of The Iceberg: Syngenta Settlement With Corn Farmers

The settlement that was announced last week and awaits the approval of the court system involving a class action lawsuit by corn farmers against the agricultural chemical juggernaut, Syngenta, is just the tip of the iceberg involving international concerns over genetically modified crops.

The suit dealt with a strain of modified corn that Syngenta sold to the farmers under the guise that it was going to be grown for export to China. However, the big issue was that China had not approved that strain of GMO corn and Syngenta did not get approval prior to negotiating the deal with the farmers.

Ultimately, China rejected the import of millions of tons of the genetically modified strain of corn called Agrisure Viptera. This tremendous amount is what caused the settlement numbers in this case to multiply significantly.

The settlement is over $1.5 billion and, according to Reuters, would be the largest class action settlement for an agriculture case in American history. This whole case represents a larger problem with the conglomerates running the seed industry, with GMO containing products, and with the import and export of certain staple crops within the food supply.

Syngenta is now owned by ChemChina, in a merger that was well publicized recently and heavily debated because of the implications of Chinese ownership of a company which supplies products which are integral to the American food supply.

It should be noted that ninety percent of the U.S. corn crop supply is genetically modified.

This sadly, is one piece of a giant patchwork of international export deals involving GMO staple food sources, not only corn. It includes wheat, soybean, and sugar beet crops as well. It is nearly impossible to find a mainstream food product without the “made with genetic engineering” disclaimer on the label.

The international laws around GMO food products make for even more unknown variables. There are certain countries that do not require the disclosure of ingredients that are GMO containing and do not label crop sources that are genetically engineered.

The push for organic foods and organic staple crops is making a resurgence in some parts of the world but the main issue is that the farmland is already tainted from GMO seeds that it is very difficult to impossible to use that land for organic crops.

The seeds are already genetically altered for so many crops that even if a farmer used organic products to preserve and sustain the crops they would inherently contain GMOs. The most effective way to deal with GMOs is at the seed level and growing less crops of corn for ethanol use.

However, this also is easier stated than put into tangible action. The agricultural seed industry is dominated by a few conglomerates: Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta. Monsanto controls over one quarter of the entire seed industry globally, and those three companies account for almost half of the entire global seed industry, which is a staggering figure.

That level of control into the hands of so few companies is a setback to any substantive progress being made with non-GM seeds. Then, consider further that all three of those enormous companies are in transition: Monsanto is in merger talks with Bayer, DuPont has merged with Dow, and Syngenta was merged with ChemChina in a $43 billion deal.

Some companies have taken the “Safe Seed Pledge” promising to not use GMO ingredients in their seeds, but they are used in smaller scale amounts for gardening and not for mass production. The scale up for the demands of the food supply make the reductions in GMO crops problematic.

The genetically modified trend is growing to impact fish and other livestock as well. It is presenting some moral and ethical questions along the way.

In a time period where social media and the internet has made for increased transparency, the international trade deals and ambiguous labeling laws for genetically engineered or modified foods make it incredibly difficult for people to know what they are eating.

The import of genetically modified ingredients is a whole other avenue where food products could become infiltrated with GMOs. The link between certain ingredients and genetic modification has been well established and internationally it is difficult to find alternate sources.

The United States got into the GMO crop scenario so deeply it is going to be hard to reverse course at this point. The European Union, by contrast, does not allow the sale of GMO food and produces it on a small percentage of their farmland for export purposes only.

The settlement by Syngenta over the failed exports to China is just one trade deal gone wrong. It is just one piece to the puzzle, it is the tip of the iceberg in a maze of deals centered on GMO products. The rest of those pieces will fall in future and the public questions about GMOs will continue and sadly the answers are not very promising.

Organic Fertilizer Development Gains Steam

Several companies are either developing, or partnering with other groups to develop, an organic fertilizer that can handle a larger quantity of crop yields. This is in response to the anti-GMO, anti-genetic engineering sentiment that has been rapidly growing within the consumers in both America and Europe in recent years.

The push to develop an organic fertilizer that is capable of this production yield stems from other scientific studies of soil. Those studies demonstrated that farmland treated with organic materials for fertilization was in more favorable growing conditions (soil microbial abundance is the official metric) than the farmland treated with nitrogen based fertilizer products.

In a report from CNBC one such company, Abundant Farms, recently hired a new director of technology who has a background in developing prototypes of organic fertilizers. The plan is for the company to test some of these products in a “scaled up” prototype scenario in test market farms in designated areas in the United States as well as in Romania in Eastern Europe.

Romania is one of the top producers of corn and some other crops in the world and will provide an excellent test market for this new organic product for crop treatment. The country distributes their crop production throughout the European Union and the world.

Abundant Farms partners with governments and farmers to provide solutions that are environmentally friendly. This is a time period of increased consumer scrutiny of food ingredients and where as well as how food is sourced and produced; the timing of these developments in organic farming is highly relevant.

Melior Resources, a company with an international presence just announced a strategic partnership with an Australian based organic products company, SOFT. The terms of the agreement essentially translate to Melior buying and distributing organic fertilizer products which SOFT will create and scale up.

The first organic fertilizer product in the pipeline for this new strategic arrangement is derived from a substance called apatite, which is a mineral sourced in Australia, among other places. The apatite from a specific mine in Australia has different properties that are not found in other versions of the mineral from other parts of the world.

The apatite that Melior/SOFT will be utilizing has no cadmium and no lead which lends itself well for use in fertilizer. SOFT has a unique technology to refine raw apatite into organic fertilizer.

In addition, according to the joint press release, this particular apatite from the Goondicum mine in Australia has a slow release phosphate effect. This slow release characteristic makes it ideal for organic fertilizer because it is not harmful to waterways or areas surrounding where it would be utilized.

The joint venture between the two companies is for ten years and the results of the combined strengths of the two partners should yield beneficial products for the consumer relative to the pushback being given to GMO containing and genetically engineered products.

The subsequent increase in organic farming necessitates the demand for more options with organic fertilizers, especially products which can handle higher yields. The expansion in supply of organic corn, soybean, and sugar beet are critical to the future of organic farming.

The LA Times produced an insightful report on the future of organic farming by taking a different perspective. The report states that the world could grow and sustain more widespread organic crop yields if our global society embraced two very important concepts: reduce food waste, and consume less meat.

This is due to the amount of land and resources required to maintain livestock for the consumption of meat. The rise in organic farming would have an environmental safety benefit because of the reduction in the use of chemical fertilizers, but organic farming is plagued by the “yield gap”.

The “yield gap” is the amount of land required to farm within organic standards. The practice of organic farming need more land because the yield level on an organic crop is smaller than a standard crop which uses nitrogen based fertilizer products. The rise in organic farming could have a potentially negative side effect when you consider the impact of deforestation to narrow the “yield gap”.

The concept of food waste is a “first world problem” but it is a significant contributor to the current food supply situation as well as a challenge to the future growth of organic crop production. The reduction in food waste can be achieved through greater awareness, through adjustments in food consumption, through more conscious food purchasing decisions, and by consistently checking your refrigerator by rotating food by expiration dates.

The ability to slash food waste is a grass roots approach, it is done at the family level which will extend to whole communities. The scientists in the LA Times feature are conducting multiple studies which examine the amount of crops and acreage are used for growing feed stock, compared to land used for growing food for human consumption. The analysis is then done to determine the conditions needed for organic farming yield targets to be attained considering demographic factors such as population growth.

One study concluded that the food waste globally would need to be cut in half from current levels, and that all the land used for feed stock would be needed for organic farming. The reduction of meat consumption to zero is an unrealistic outcome, so there are other studies targeting a 50% reduction in meat consumption by 2050.

Those are macro level changes over the long term, the micro level changes occur through more locally grown produce. The community farmers market approach is another viable method of expanding the organic foods approach.

Finally, the growth of organic fertilizers, and the commitment from the agriculture products industry to the development and scaled up production of high yield options for farmers will be a key in the movement toward more organic food in our global supply chain.

Follow Up: The GMO Labeling Debate Continues

The GMO labeling debate continues on, now almost eighteen months after the 2016 bill was signed to require food producers to disclose genetically engineered or genetically modified ingredients on the labels of consumer products.

The debate at this point centers around new legislation in Congress that the big lobbying groups, such as GMA (Grocery Manufacturers of America), are advocating for which will allow some loopholes to the disclosure of genetically altered ingredients.

This week in the news, the GMA suffered a setback when Nestle decided to join The Campbell Soup Company and withdraw from the GMA over the issue. Nestle and Campbell Soup disbanded their membership in the group over this contentious issue of GMO labeling.

Both Nestle and Campbell Soup favor more transparent disclosure of genetically modified or engineered ingredients. In a previous article I produced, the decision by The Campbell Soup Company to make a full disclosure of GMO ingredients before it was required by law brought significant traction and attention to the legislation that eventually gained passage in 2016.

The GMA group wants less transparency in the process, and the opinion of the Nestle and Campbell Soup is that direction will damage the relationship with the consumer more than just disclosing the presence of GMO ingredients up front. The average consumer today has far more information available to them and many shoppers are significantly more health conscious than in prior generations.

However, at the same time, some consumers do not care about GMO or genetically engineered ingredients in their food. Some consumers have a favorable view of GMO ingredients and feel they are safe. Many consumers are making purchasing decisions strictly based on price, and they cannot afford to stretch their budget to buy products that do not contain genetically engineered ingredients.

The other force at play here is that depending on the type of grocery item on the list, the non-GMO versions are either difficult to find or do not exist. The second most important attribute to shoppers in grocery channel surveys after price/value is time/convenience. The average shopper has a very busy lifestyle and most people have what they would term “time sensitivity” and that is a huge component in some shoppers just doing the “grab and go” without reading labels.

It should be noted that the majority of Americans have a negative opinion of GMO and genetically altered or engineered ingredients in food products. It has become an issue where the consumer is making purchasing decisions based on that one factor, which makes the labeling transparency crucial.

Some food companies have noted sluggish sales of certain product categories and are rapidly designing alternative versions that are either organic, gluten free, soy free, or GMO-free.

The current legislation regarding GMO labeling has a few different options for the food producing company with regard to the design of their label deck. The first option is to highlight the ingredient(s) that are genetically modified and then put a disclaimer below the ingredients list that the highlighted items are made with genetic engineering.

The second option is to place an asterisk next to the ingredient(s) that are modified or genetically altered and then below the ingredient list have a similar disclaimer as option one: made with genetic engineering/modification.

The third option is to not highlight or asterisk any individual ingredients on the label and put some type of bold or highlighted statement reading: this product contains ingredients made with genetic engineering.

Then what is known in the industry as “option four” which is going to become more prevalent on packaging and label decks for companies who want to be less transparent about their ingredient statement. This option allows the food producer to put the disclaimer of the genetically altered or engineered ingredients on a document that can only be found if the consumer scans the QR code on the package.

The lobbying and special interest groups for the GMO free or those against the use of genetically engineered ingredients in our food products have several issues with this option for disclosure.

The first point of contention being the obvious one, the consumer has limited time and yet they are going to have to scan a QR code on individual packages and then read the disclosure statement to determine whether or not it is genetically modified, that is an unrealistic expectation.

The other major point of concern is the elderly, the economically disadvantaged, and those with other physical handicaps do not have access to the technology needed to scan the QR code to find this information.

The option four labeling is also being used on items that the average consumer would not anticipate being genetically engineered: such as grapes, certain types of juice products, and bottled spices. This option, just at face value, seems dishonest to the consumer as well.

The role of the QR codes in the labeling of food products and disclosures in any future legislation remains to be determined. It is definitely going to be one point of contention moving forward.

The labeling of food products and GMOs took another on another aspect in the news this week, with a major news organization publishing a story based on the results of a study published in JAMA where scientists analyzed the effects of the pesticide called Roundup.

The study found that people living in Southern California in recent years have had an increased level of glyphosate in their system which is the active ingredient in that pesticide product (see my earlier article on the effects of this product and the food supply) it is increased about 500%.

The study in Great Britain of the effects of glyphosate on rats demonstrated an increased level of liver disease and liver cancer. This is something that the scientists will monitor in California with their study participants. In fair balance, it is not known whether the increased levels in Southern California are due to the ingestion of foods with higher levels of GMOs, or if the participants breathed in particles of the pesticide from nearby farms.

The use of pesticides, herbicides, and genetic engineering has altered our food and our crops. It is trending in lockstep with an increased rate of illness in Americans from higher rates of cancer, to autoimmune diseases, autism, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia.
The American public should have the right to know if the products they buy to feed themselves and their families contain ingredients that are genetically modified or altered. It should be up to the consumer to make their own choices based on having all the facts in front of them.

The debate on GMO labeling and whether or not genetically modified foods are safe will continue on, and what is left is for you to decide which side you will be on.

The Next Battleground: Gene-Editing & Food Products

The vigorous pushback that GMO (genetically modified) or genetically engineered ingredients in our food supply have received is a topic that I have covered here on Frank’s Forum as well as for other news websites for about four years.

My position regarding this issue is well documented as being against the use of genetically modified organisms or genetically engineered ingredients in our food. I have also detailed the problems inherently built into our food supply chain with genetically modified seeds. This scenario has fostered conditions where it is very difficult in the agricultural realities of today to avoid GMOs or genetic engineering in certain staple crops: corn, soybean, wheat, and sugar beet.

In those cases, I am a staunch proponent of the need for clear labeling practices for food production companies to notify the consumer of whether or not the item in question is made with genetically modified/engineered ingredients. I believe in the movement and the slogan fostered by another group, we have “a right to know if it is GMO”.

I was researching a set of different resources last week in the library for a GMO related piece, and I stumbled upon some research on genetic editing, or gene-editing, used in crops. This particular data set was on a study using genetic editing in corn for commercial use and not for human consumption.

The process of gene-editing inserts desired traits into the genetic pathways of crops and livestock. This trend is alarming to some, and intriguing to others; it certainly presents an ethical set of questions.
The intent, according to some published reports, is for gene-editing to be used in the human food supply in the future. The large corporate players in the industry have already made statements to the media indicating that their expectation is for gene-editing to be integrated into food production.

This raises some very important ethical questions about the alteration of the DNA of food which is grown in the earth. It raises serious questions about the line of division between man and God.

The process of genetic editing in food is also generating a new oracle within certain circles as “GMO 2.0” ; an inference to this scientific method being simply a continuation or new version of GMO ingredients in food. The use of the CRISPR method allows large chemical companies such as Dow/DuPont the capability to splice the genetic makeup of the food source.

The agricultural science and seed suppliers have become increasingly enmeshed over the course of the last two to three years due to mergers and acquisitions activity. The repercussions of that activity translate to molding scientific advances into what could be marketed to generate profits. This is a dangerous trend particularly when it is connected to the food supply.

These same agricultural/chemical giants: Dow/DuPont, Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, and others are “softening the ground” (all irony aside) with campaigns designed to almost condition the consumer to accept genetically edited products. They seek to avoid the public backlash that GMOs and products with genetically engineered ingredients have faced within the marketplace.

The key to that campaign objective is to position the genetic editing as more closely related to science and the scientific makeup of the crop or produce involved. The splice at the DNA level is going to be marketed as “more natural” than the process of GMO – which has an overwhelmingly negative public perception surrounding it.

This method of direct to consumer marketing is certainly nothing new, and is an increasingly common trend in marketing. The obstacles that face the agricultural titans mentioned earlier is that the public has access to so much information now than it did twenty or thirty years ago when the genetic engineering experiments began.

The other fact that is neglected in all of this, is that the process of CRISPR and genetic editing still modifies the DNA and the chemical structure of the crop in question. The process still alters what God created with something that mankind engineered. The questions will persist that if they are moving toward genetic editing to clone a “super crop” – where does it end?

The inevitable and controversial topic of cloning will take a renewed position within the national dialogue in America. The question of human cloning will be soon to follow. The debate will again be brought to the surface and the concept of genetic editing will have higher stakes than just the food supply.

In the end analysis, the responsibility shifts back to us to educate ourselves on the concept of genetic editing, and there are numerous sources of information on this subject. The central question will remain: should man be involved in the alteration of the DNA of something that was created long before we had any technology available? Should mankind use science to change what God created?

Those answers will not be concluded easily but those are the issues we will confront in the months ahead. The battle lines are drawn: which side wiil you be on?

European Union Votes To Ban GMO Crops

The majority of countries in the European Union voted to ban crops made with two different types of genetically modified maize on Monday. However, the measure failed passage because the countries that voted against the measure did not represent 65% of the population of the EU, a requirement to defeat this proposal from moving further in the legal process.

The crops in question as part of this measure were the Pioneer brand and another from Syngenta. The EU has been consistent in their resistance to genetically modified food and to crops utilizing genetically engineered seeds for both human and agriculture use such as to feed livestock.

The rules regarding these particular proposals seem to work against the union itself from a political and policy point of view because even if a majority of the countries vote against a specific policy, in this case being GMO seeds/crops, the motion can still carry if the more populated member countries vote in favor of it.

It would stand to reason that the citizens of the smaller or less populated countries would certainly have some frustration or anger over that voting mechanism within the structure of the E.U. at this point. The European mindset toward rejecting genetically engineered or modified food ingredients has been consistent over the course of the past several years, and they have been far more successful than the anti-GMO lobbying efforts have been in the United States.

Moreover, that is not meant to be an indictment on the anti-GMO movement in the U.S., because in my view, they have been tireless in their efforts toward further transparency in food product labeling and ingredient disclosure. The movement has even gained some victories in the past 18 months or so, in the declarations on the labels for food products from major manufacturers of nationally distributed brands.

The anti-GMO movement has been successful on the state level in gaining new legislative action regarding the use of genetically engineered products in a variety of applications from food production to agricultural use. The growth of new brands that are organic and non-GMO and their subsequent success in the marketplace is evidence of a growing trend in America away from processed and modified food to more natural and healthier food choices.

However, despite the policy victories and despite the change in the consciousness of the general American consumer, the new Administration in Washington threatens to rescind some of those legislative changes regarding the ingredients in food products. This includes the policy enacted by the previous Presidential Administration requiring food companies to disclose if the product contains any genetically engineered ingredients.

In my prior article about Campbell Soup Company and their decision to disclose those ingredients prior to the change which would make that disclosure mandatory, the stock market and shareholders alike had some trepidation on how it would affect sales at the company. The disclosure has resonated with the consumer especially in the case of their soup products, where there was some shock value to the presence of genetically engineered ingredients.

In the current context of GMOs in the food industry, there are some factions that feel that a rollback of the disclosure policy would damage the overall movement for the non-GMO interests. Then, there are others who maintain that the consumer now knows which companies and products contain GM ingredients, and will likely avoid them in their future purchase patterns. The other fact remains that once a purchase pattern is changed, most consumers do not revert back to a prior pattern for product selection.
In the context of the current situation in Europe, all of this comes within the backdrop of some major shifting and consolidation activity within the agricultural seed and crop protection industries. The largest players in those industry segments: Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, and Syngenta are all the subject of merger and acquisition activity at this point.

Monsanto is in the process of being potentially purchased by German corporate titan, Bayer. Dow and DuPont are in the process of merging together to form one goliath sized company and that merger just went before some E.U. regulators and is in regulatory review in the United States as well. DuPont is in the process of selling off some business units to FMC at this time to meet regulatory approval.

Syngenta is in the review process of being acquired by a Chinese corporation, which has left some within the Western economies feeling uneasy for a variety of reasons. The potential for the Chinese to gain access to specific technologies and processes that could impact the “playing field” in that industry segment is one issue. The concerns over quality control and product assurance/ product safety when it comes to the reputation of Chinese companies for bending the rules on certain protocols is an anxious proposition when it comes to the products used to grow food.

The European Union as a governing body must be facing pressure from an economic standpoint to start utilizing more genetically modified products from a cost efficiency point of view as well as a crop protection standpoint. The lobby from the corporations involved must be significant as well or else these types of proposals would not even be under consideration.

The EU currently uses GMO products but only certain types of products are approved for each type of main staple crop. The food produced from those crops is subject to very strict testing and regulations. The political movement by the union in recent years is to provide the member states with more latitude to determine how they will regulate GMO crops.

This current vote on EU crops represents the first new GMO crop products to be considered in almost twenty years. The measure, when or if it is passed, will only affect nine countries and some regions in Belgium and England. The other 19 members of the EU have banned GMO crops from being grown within their borders.

The future of genetically modified crops in the EU is going to be interesting especially given the backdrop of the major consolidation activity within the seed and agricultural/crop protection industries currently. Those companies will get even larger and more influential, and the resistance from the citizens and governments in the members states of the EU will have to ramp up their defenses to continue to resist the policies from being altered.

Follow Up: Dow – DuPont Merger Update

The gigantic potential merger of Dow Chemical and DuPont, both with market caps at around $60 billion each, is being fiercely opposed in the European Union by regulatory authorities. The biggest concern is that the combined company would spend less on crop protection which the regulators maintain will lower overall global food supply production.

This comes amid news that the global population is growing and food supply chain issues will become increasingly more important. The financial markets have also responded amid these reports with the indicator known as short interest falling 88% regarding Dow Chemical. That is a hint that Wall Street thinks this deal could be headed for a complete halt.

This deal is also under scrutiny from several directions from a variety of interested parties: the farming and agricultural sector, the environmental activist groups, the GMO food supply activist groups, and from within the chemical industry segment. These groups each have different issues with the proposed consummation of these two industrial titans.

The farming and agricultural sector has concerns with this deal as it pertains to eliminating competition for certain components necessary for crop production. The decrease in competition could likely lead to higher prices for these items which will impact the profits for farms of all types, the majority of which are family owned.

The environmental activist segment has concerns about the increased production of several chemical products if these two conglomerates merge and begin synergizing their product lines. The increased production of products such as weed killing sprays as well as other pesticides or herbicides are at the forefront of their opposition to this deal. They also share the concerns of the E.U. regulatory boards regarding the effects that cost cutting combined with increased amounts of product being manufactured will have on the plants and factories being utilized.

Furthermore, these groups have increasing concerns over the potential for air and water pollution from the manufacturing practices used in the operation of these production factories for these types of chemical items. The emission of carbon is at the center of the climate change debate which is a very serious situation in Europe at this point within their discourse.

The GMO and food supply activism groups have issues with this proposed deal because of the potential for increased amounts of GMO seeds and the increased amounts of pesticides, weed killers, and other agro-chemical products that it will push into the marketplace. These groups also share similar concerns to the European regulators regarding the cost cutting strategies surrounding crop protection and the direct impact that will have on the food supply.

Finally, there are concerns from within the chemical industry segment regarding this deal as well. It should be understood though that most of the issues that this segment has with the proposed formation of Dow-DuPont is regarding the role it could play in decreasing competition. It will become even more difficult for smaller chemical manufacturers to compete in the business environment with a combined Dow-DuPont, the possibility of a combined Bayer-Monsanto, and the Chinese chemical conglomerate with their proposed bid for Syngenta.

The trend toward consolidation is invariably a concern for the other companies within the chemical industry segment as it will also be an area of scrutiny for the regulatory bodies involved in both the E.U. and the United States.

The implications are enormous for the future mergers and consolidations of the companies mentioned earlier: Bayer – Monsanto, and the potential for a Chinese company to obtain a key specialty chemical maker such as Syngenta. Those proposed mergers also impact the Dow-DuPont deal. In the event that the regulatory powers involved determine that either Dow or DuPont, or for that matter both entities, have to sell off pieces of their respective companies to make the merger more palatable; the other major players in the industry will be out of the mix to buy those business units.

Syngenta, Monsanto, and Bayer will be very reluctant to make any purchases at all while their proposed merger deals are also under regulatory scrutiny. This inability to find potential willing buyers for the business units at Dow-DuPont could also cause the merger process to go completely off the tracks.

The process will continue to play out in Europe, and the decision rendered there will have an impact on the manner in which the U.S. federal regulators view this potential acquisition. The stakes are high for farmers, for the environment, for the food supply, and for our natural resources. The stakes are high for us all if this merger moves forward and two giant companies have that much influence over the most important aspects of our global community.

Squashed: Hunt’s GMO Claim Buries New Ad Campaign

Hunt’s is an iconic American brand, perhaps known best as the number two brand of ketchup next to Heinz, released a new advertising campaign this past Monday. The after-Christmas marketing and advertising direction poised to take them into 2017 and it features a field of tomatoes with the voice-over: “No GMOs in sight”.

The campaign, on the surface, might seem rather benign to the average consumer. However, the campaign and the inference that Hunt’s products used non-GMO tomatoes was met with swift resistance by those in a variety of areas of expertise.

The issue being: that there are no GMOs in tomatoes that are sold to consumers in any form in the United States. The claim by Hunt’s (parent company ConAgra Foods) is now being viewed as the company trying to essentially trick the American consumer into thinking that the competition uses or contains GMO ingredients.

Furthermore, the campaign by Hunt’s is being seen as a way to capitalize on the American consumer and their inherent aversion to GMO containing food products. In the essence of the situation here, the bottom line is that it looks dishonest by the company that they are making a claim about GMOs when all tomatoes are free of the ingredients that would met a standard definition of being genetically altered or modified.

The consumer, farming, and scientific communities have all taken to social media and squashed Hunt’s for the implication that their ingredients are free of GMOs, when it would be true for the entire market. The other issue at play here is that if they planned on changing their label to reflect a “non-GMO” status, that type of change to the packaging and label deck costs money, and it is usually passed along to the consumer in the form of a price increase.

The campaign has smacked so much of utilizing public fears over GMOs that some social media comments have consumers saying that they will be buying the competition’s products because of what Hunt’s tried to insinuate in this campaign.

It would be ridiculous if Heinz had to issue a campaign or a statement regarding the GMO status of their tomato based product lines. This is a case study for a marketing and advertising campaign that has gone totally sideways from the original intent because it was not thought all the way through. It was ill-advised by Hunt’s and it is definitely misleading to the consumer, but it was not in a malicious way.

The topic of GMOs is a hot button for many, myself included, and I have written my share of pieces on all sorts of topics relative to GMOs in the past. The article I did on Campbell’s Soup and their decision to disclose genetically modified ingredients on their individual product labels has certainly sparked a backlash against their products. I have witnessed it in the soup aisle and with the reaction of those people I know regarding their soup products.

In fairness to Campbell’s, as I noted in my prior article, the staple crops in making some of their soups: corn, soy, and sugar beet are sourced from the supplier as GMO containing ingredients. This is due to the supply chain of our staple crops containing GMOs or being grown with GMO seed. The amount of organic crops of those staple items is far too limited to sustain a mass production supply level and would also be very cost inefficient at this point.

The case of Campbell’s differs from Hunt’s because the ingredients involved in making soup do have non-GMO alternative sources, in the case of Hunt’s the product is already GMO free and they were trying to pass it off as it was a decision that they had consciously made about their products.

In the end analysis, honesty is always the best policy. Hunt’s would have been better served by focusing on the facts such as: “the tomato, GMO free and always will be” or “ketchup the naturally GMO free way to give flavor to your favorite food”. The tact they took has left them in a tough spot, they have to course correct this marketing campaign or else they will be left trying to figure out what to do with all those unsold bottles of ketchup which was GMO free in the first place.

Honeybees & Zika: The Spray That Saves Humans Kills Bees

The mainstream news cycle has featured the stories related to the Zika virus for a few months now. In the past two weeks a couple of those stories gained some rather significant importance in the overall context of the costs of fighting the spread of the virus.

The first was in South Carolina where government officials from both the state and county levels failed to warn the local beekeeping communities regarding a massive spraying they were carrying out to prevent the spread of Zika. The result was that those chemicals sprayed to kill the mosquitoes that potentially carry the Zika virus also killed about 1 million bees.

I have written previously on the importance of the honeybee to our domestic food supply and about the epidemic of entire colonies of bees dying in America. The honeybee population could ill afford a situation such as the one which took place in South Carolina.

Due to the fact that we are a reactionary society, the government there (and in other states) have stated that they will introduce protocols to give advanced notice to beekeepers in the future regarding the scheduling of these massive chemical spraying projects.
That change does not reverse the damage already done by the spraying in South Carolina for many beekeepers who lost their livelihood, and for the farming community there which is looking at lost crop yields. The lost yields are due to the honeybees being unable to pollinate because of the massive depletion in their numbers.

The lost crop yields translates into higher costs for the consumer on certain food products. The chemicals being sprayed may save humans from the greater risk of contracting the Zika virus, but it will come at a cost to the food supply. That is certainly a consequence that must be curtailed in the future.

The second story in the news cycle with an impact on this situation is the announced merger of two petrochemical giants, Bayer and Monsanto, which is going to have a profound effect on the honeybee population. This merged conglomerate will produce increased amounts of herbicides and pesticides which the honeybees will ingest during the course of pollination which can cause the death of the entire colony.

The impact of the widespread use of chemical agents such as Roundup has a detrimental impact on the honeybee population, and this merger will increase the availability of this and other products of similar agricultural use.

In fact, a study was just released which concluded that American farmers had increased their usage of this product by more than 20% from the prior years examined. The rationale is mainly from the resistance that some weeds had established when treated by other products. This will have detrimental consequences to the American food supply, as the main ingredient, glyphosate has been linked to all sorts of health issues in humans and animals alike.

In addition, the use of the Roundup product by the average consumer for lawn care has led to active lawsuits against Monsanto regarding the potential link to the spraying of the product and Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Some research has also indicated that insects which fed on the leaves of corn stalks sprayed with this product have died in large numbers. The merger of the two companies will only increase the marketing efforts around this and other products which will cause harm to humans.

The data behind many of these studies is both revealing and troubling at the same time. I encourage all of you to take a closer look at the impact of pesticides and other petrochemical products, GMOs, and other agricultural products which will have an impact on you and your family.

The use of these products also merits increased consideration because we need to protect the population of honeybees, or our food supply will face a crisis level situation.

I understand the need to protect the population from the potential spread of the Zika virus, but all of these chemicals and their consequences and effects should be examined more closely as well. It certainly bears close observation as the regulators make a determination on this merger and the federal government weighs the GMO labeling laws in the coming months.