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.

Follow Up: Dow – DuPont Merger Hits Snag

The proposed merger between two global industrial chemical giants, Dow and DuPont, has reportedly hit a snag with the top European regulatory board. In a follow up to my prior article on this topic, this proposed merger had some issues from the outset, which is to be expected whenever two companies of that size are in the mix.

The European regulatory board has some significant concerns regarding the agricultural product lines particularly the seed products for crops involved in this proposal. The combined Dow-DuPont would be a major rival to the market leader, Monsanto, and if the deal was approved it would consolidate a huge majority of the seed industry into the hands of two companies.

I had mentioned this area in my prior work on this merger as being an area that should be of huge interest to the majority of the general public regarding this deal because it would place a monopoly on the seeds used to grow the global food supply. This will inevitably cause some very dangerous potential ramifications regarding the cost to grow and manufacture food and agricultural products.

The European regulators were correct in raising this concern at this point and to investigating this situation further. They also raised concerns about certain petrochemical products and the overall impact that this merger could have on innovation. The regulators explained to the media that the farmers have a reliance on the capability of being able to obtain seeds at a competitive price in order to maintain their livelihood. The statement essentially indicates that this proposed merger could leave the farmers in a situation where that cost competiveness is gone, forcing them to buy the seeds at whatever price the two top companies on the supply side dictate that price to be.

The anti-trust laws were established both in the U.S., in Europe, and in other parts of the world to provide safeguards against the very type of situations that this proposed merger presents in the context of competitive balance. The control of any commodity into the hands of the few is a problematic situation given the predisposition toward greed displayed by the large majority of publicly traded corporations.

The likely defense from Dow-DuPont is, as they alluded to when the CEOs made the rounds on the financial news networks back at the start of this circus, that they plan to split the company into three separate companies. In the reports I have read regarding the European regulatory decision today, it appears that will not be enough to satisfy their concerns because that accounting split into three companies does not change the controlling market share in seeds or petrochemicals that Dow-DuPont would maintain.

It remains to be seen what the investigation will yield, it could result in the European board “recommendation” that the proposed merged entity must divest their holdings in the seed industry segment and potential other industry segments. This would deal strictly with the European divisions of the proposed new Dow-DuPont and would be required of them to clear the hurdles to that M&A proposal in Europe.

The impact of that recommendation or the finding of this investigation could have an impact on the regulatory process in the United States. However, there is a chance that the regulators here view this as a European issue and they may have other concerns about this gigantic merger proposal.

The agricultural lobbies, both those who have interests in lobbying for farmers in the US and those who lobby for the petrochemical and agricultural supply companies, will certainly be active in the run up to the regulatory review process here in America.
This new emphasis on “clean” eating and healthy food will have interest groups from the GMO free side of the food industry certainly weighing in on this proposal as well. The renewed focus on GMO seed that companies such as Monsanto, Dow, and DuPont push for all the main staple crops in America is something that all of us should be concerned about, and the implications for the consolidation of that seed industry could deal a crushing blow to the GMO free lobby.

This investigation by European regulators could set the bar for American regulators to follow suit, which could very well lead to the breakup of the existing brand lines controlled by Dow- DuPont and lead to some significant changes to the agricultural industrial marketplace and the petrochemical marketplace globally. This matter is far from over, in fact, it looks like the process has finally started to feel like it has actually begun.

Dannon Launches GMO- Free Yogurt

Dannon announced today that the company has launched yogurt products which are free of GMOs in the United States. The changes have been made to the Dannon main brand product line and to the Oikos Greek yogurt brand product line. The company, according to industry and financial media reports, also plans on launching GMO free product versions of the Dannimals product line geared toward children.

The products that cannot be made with GMO free ingredients or GMO free milk will be labeled very distinctly that they contain genetically modified ingredients. The products that are now GMO-free have a new packaging and a distinct label indicating GMO-free.

I discovered this while shopping in my local grocery store today and picking up some Greek yogurt I noticed that the Oikos products had a new package that was clear plastic so that I could see the product. I picked it up to see what the new package indicated and noticed the GMO free label right away. I have advocated for GMO labeling on food products for a long time now, so I was very happy to see this change today.

Dannon is making an effort to source all of their milk from non-GMO sources by either late 2017 or 2018 depending on what reports you may see on this topic. I think that latitude in the time frame is also predicated on demand for the products potentially increasing and the need for more adequate supply to catch up and flatten out that curve.

Dannon is certainly going to gain customers from this change, even if it is incremental, because not all the products in the brand lines I mentioned above have hit the shelves with their GMO free versions yet. However, those that have certainly will get the attention of the consumer in a positive way.

The groups that advocate for GMO labeling and for a change to non-GMO sourcing in food products have been hammering Chobani and General Mills (Yoplait) for a long time now to make this change. The fact that Dannon was the first to market with this concept in this food product category that has exploded with the trend toward healthier eating in the U.S. bodes well for their brand image and reputation. That is all going to translate into increased sales and revenues for Dannon.

The decision to label the products that cannot be made GMO-free (at least at this point in time) is another constructive step that will push their competition to consider similar measures. The American consumer tends to look favorably upon transparency and this willingness by Dannon to comply by telling the consumer what is and what is not GMO free is a step in the right direction for proponents of stricter food labeling measures.

In the case of Dannon, my earlier article on their acquisition of White Wave Foods will only serve to enhance their capabilities in offering further GMO free product options across all their brand lines in the future, should that transaction be approved.

It is going to be interesting to see how the rest of the yogurt market responds to this move by Dannon today. It certainly sets the playing field on a bold new path. I know the consumer is going to find it favorable. In time we will know how the rest of the industry tries to respond to an ever growing trend of GMO free product demand.

Supermarket Shock: GMO Labeling & Consumers

Some of the major food companies such as Campbell’s and General Mills among others, have begun the process of labeling some of their products with disclosures relative to genetically modified ingredients. In your local grocery stores, depending on what state you live in, you may have also seen similar product labeling.

The label on the packaging will have a disclosure with a statement such as: “contains genetically engineered corn” or “made from genetically engineered soybeans”, or “contains genetically modified ingredients”. The surprising component to this scenario was that with all the reporting and commentary writing I have done regarding the subject of GMOs and the need for stricter food labeling, and knowing that this was actually going to appear on products on the shelves in stores: my wife, friends and colleagues, as well as myself all were still shocked by it.

We were all shocked by the appearance of the words on the box of cereal or the can of soup that we have purchased regularly over the years. The words, seeing them in print, make it that much more impressionable and have a pronounced impact. I wrote about this in a previous article on GMO labeling for the site known as Medium where I explored the potential consumer reaction and subsequent ramifications for the food industry.

One of the potential responses that was mentioned in other news coverage on GMO labeling of food products was most troubling to consumer packaged goods company executives: the shock value to the shopper. This shock factor with shoppers was also detailed in articles regarding the financial segment’s valuation of Campbell Soup Company stock after they determined that the consumer reaction would adversely impact product sales.
It is certainly a shock for many consumers to see the widespread presence of GMOs in the food supply. Then, there are other consumers who are more knowledgeable and shop at health food type stores and websites to obtain locally sourced, GMO free products.

There are still others, and that will encompass a huge group of consumers, that know and understand the fact that GMO corn, sugar beet, and soybean are the most prevalent supply in American domestic food products. We do not have much choice because of the expense of buying alternative products that are GMO free to feed multiple people or a family. The cost factor associated with removing GMO containing products from our respective diets is not feasible when coupled with other rising standard of living costs.

It is my opinion, and I am in agreement with the analysts’ data from the financial valuation on Campbell Soup, that there will be some shoppers that will be so shocked by the GMO labeling that they will put the product back on the shelf and make another product choice. Then there are other consumers who will see the label and purchase the product anyway in a state of resignation to the fact that GMOs are part of our current food supply chain.

The fact remains that the seed used to grow the staple crops such as corn, wheat, soybean, and sugar beet are genetically engineered. There is not enough non-GMO seed to support more than a fraction of the amount of food needed in production for our population. This is the inherent problem with sourcing sustainable “clean” food products.

The debate over whether the food labeling should be done federally or on a state-by-state basis will only cease when the federal authorities make a final determination. In the event that labeling guidelines become mandated by law, then this shopper shock will only become more intense because it will effect such a large amount of products in our stores.
In my own perspective, I have had the most difficulty with reading it on boxes of breakfast cereal. I think it is the understanding that for several years I have been eating cold cereal for breakfast, and that basically all of them contain some sort of genetically engineered ingredient. There is something very stark about coming to that realization.

In the end analysis, as the labeling of the GMO or genetically engineered ingredients becomes more commonplace I am interested to see whether this “shopper shock” will wear off, similar to the initial “sticker shock” we might get on a price of a higher ticket item. In many cases, over time, we become desensitized to many external factors within our human condition. I am interested to see if this will be another example of that type of behavioral response.

In the interim, we as consumers will continue to get jolted whenever we pick up a can of soup or a bottle of juice and find that it contains genetically engineered ingredients. We, as consumers, will continue to try to drive the progress towards the “right to know if it is GMO”. We will continue to have conversations with people we may have only just met, in one of the last places to do so in an increasingly isolative and online shopping obsessed society: in the aisle of the local grocery store. In that case, if nothing else, at least we are talking about something.

Tainted: Academies of Science GMO Report

The report issued today from the Academies of Science which essentially stated that GMOs in our food supply are safe for humans to consume came under fire by several consumer advocacy groups. The media coverage of the report can easily be found, and in fact, USA Today did fair and balanced overviews of both sides of this argument.

The focus of this commentary on my own blog here is to not delve into the specifics of the report from this organization, but rather to focus on the facts and implications that still remain in the “great GMO debate” in America. Most of you know as readers of my prior work on the topic of GMOs that I am very strongly anti-GMO. That stance has been honed by researching tons of scientific studies and empirical data from trusted sources and reading accounts of the effects of herbicides such as Roundup and their impact on the soil and crops in our country over a period of roughly 20 years.

Despite what this report released today states, GMOs are not safe for humans to consume, products such as herbicides and pesticides have caused all sorts of illnesses in children and adults. The use of genetically engineered seeds and other products in our agricultural production processes has a direct correlation to increased incidences of gastrointestinal, autoimmune, cancers, and other diseases.

Several other consumer advocacy groups and others involved in the food industry agree with my view on this report and on this situation. The reason: the Academies of Science report is tainted, it is skewed because the scientists and other members of the organization are linked with the large biotech companies and the agricultural production giants such as Monsanto. This effectively caused one group, Food & Water Watch (which is a respected consumer advocacy group) to call the results “watered down”.

This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that the biotech and big agricultural giants like Dow Chemical and Monsanto got involved to directly or indirectly influence a report or a legislative measure when it comes to GMOs. I have written numerous articles over the past few years on this same subject with political donations being linked to high powered politicians who then change the course of a particular bill so that it is favorable to the big business interests involved.

This should come as no surprise to anyone in the audience because the genetic engineering of food has always at the core been inherently about pure greed. The ability to grow more product or make the food last longer so that stores had less perishable or expired inventory has been the catalyst behind a “make it GMO or bust” mentality.

The evidence of that is clear in the U.S. according to reports published in USA Today, Yahoo! News, and other trusted sources the following numbers for 2015 are staggering with regard to the prevalent nature of genetically engineered produce in our food supply. I have listed below the percentage of each crop that is genetically engineered:
Sugar beets = 99%
Soybeans = 94%
Cotton = 94%
Feed corn = 92%

I have written previously about the pervasive and persistent nature of the GMO problem in the U.S. based on these numbers above. It has created conditions where now the staple products are genetically modified and the soil has been degraded to a point where it is not capable of growing non-GMO produce. The other issue which is just as troubling is that the seed used in so many crops are genetically modified and two main companies – Dow and Monsanto control a huge market share in the seed business for our food supply.

The amount of feed corn that is genetically modified is also a tremendous problem because it has a direct impact on so many areas of agriculture which impacts the food that is provided to many of our sources of animal protein. In turn that creates a scenario where it is very difficult to avoid GMO containing products in your given daily food intake.

In any case, despite your view on the situation, God created all that we have been given here on Earth, every living thing, the soil, the seeds, the water, and the Sun. Then mankind came along and decided that they knew better than God and they decided to alter what God created in the name of enhanced profit margins. There are many other people and groups out there that also agree with this component of my argument against GMOs.

The incidences of increased levels of autoimmune diseases such as celiac, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, certain types of cancers, and other gastrointestinal diseases all jumped up in the past 20 years since man decided that they would alter the crops and the seeds and the soil with chemical ingredients and herbicides.

I cannot emphasize enough that the ties to the Academies of Science and the biotech and agricultural products suppliers casts a huge cloud of suspicion over the validity of the report issued today. It certainly was a far cry from an independent analysis on this issue.

National Geographic put together a really informative and well done piece on the effect of Roundup brand herbicide on the crops and the soil in the American farming system. The results, and the amount that we do not know about such a widely used chemical are alarming.

The final subtopic I will touch on with regard to this issue is the labeling of GMO product which is a debate that I have covered vigorously over the past few years as well. The consumer groups today stated that the majority of Americans still believe strongly that they have the right to know if the food they are consuming is GMO containing. That fight over labeling standards and a national protocol for labeling food products is not going away with this announcement today.

The basic premise being that even if a group states that GMOs are safe, the majority of people, whether they believe those ingredients are bad or unhealthy or not, still maintain that they should know whether the product they are going to purchase contains genetically engineered components.

The fact that so many of the staple food crops that I referenced earlier in this piece are genetically engineered creates a potentially very negative situation for certain large food producing companies such as Nestle and ConAgra just to name two. The consumer will most definitely think twice about buying a can of soup with genetically modified soy in the ingredients.

The federal government has to get involved with a standard protocol because each individual state cannot have their own separate ways of declaring GMOs on labeling for grocery products, it will become a complete nightmare for interstate commerce.

In the end, the report today did nothing to quell the debate over GMOs in the food we eat, instead it stoked the fire. This debate will continue because there is a mountain of evidence to refute what this report claimed today. The trend toward healthy and fresh/ organic eating habits in the American consumer will not change because of this report today. The distrust of the government, the disdain for lobbyists, and the general skepticism towards large corporations will continue in America, and in fact was emboldened by this report today. I urge you to educate yourself on this topic because it can have a dramatic impact on your health and that of the rest of your family. This report cannot change that fact.

Senate Rejects Anti-GMO Food Labeling Bill

In a landmark victory for the American consumer, the United States Senate voted on Wednesday to reject S-2609, a measure aimed at making the labeling of GMOs “voluntary” for food producers. This bill was also known by some consumer groups as the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act, and it represented a rare pushback by the Senate against big corporate interests such as Monsanto, who were trying to advance this measure into passage as the law.

This bill, S-2609, if passed, would have nullified the food labeling law approved in Vermont that requires the disclosure of genetically modified ingredients in all food products sold in that state (effective in July – see my previous article). The Senate cited the recent poll data that demonstrated that 9 of 10 Americans want GMOs to be labeled on food products. This bill (2609) was introduced by Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, and his response to the defeat of the measure was, and I am paraphrasing, that he presented a solution and that the opposition should present a solution to address this problem.

In fact, that is where this issue is headed in political terms, since the vote was so close and the votes are not there for cloture to be achieved, the debate is headed for a compromise version of the bill. In my view, after covering this issue for years now and having worked in the food industry, that compromise version is going to center on balancing the multiple components involved. The compromise bill will focus on the determination of a fair policy for the food producers, the farmers, and the consumer.

Opposition View

The contention by Senator Roberts regarding the absence of an opposition solution is also not a completely accurate statement. In March, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon proposed a separate bill which would make the labeling of GMO ingredients mandatory, but it gave food producers several options on how to disclose that information. I wrote a piece a few months back about the Campbell Soup Company decision to disclose the genetically engineered ingredients in all their products. The Merkley bill proposal was similar in that the food company had the option to put an asterisk by the ingredients that are modified and then put the following statement on the bottom of the label: “produced with genetic engineering”.

The debate can (and will) continue about a universal food labeling policy because it is needed to streamline costs. I have covered this topic previously in that as much as I agree with the law passed in Vermont and the ambition displayed there, we cannot have a system of interstate commerce where each state has their own individual food labeling laws. That will increase costs for the food producing companies and most likely those costs will be passed along to the consumer.

In general, I believe in the state level being able to mandate their own individual legislation, but in this scenario, a federal standard for food labeling of GMOs is needed. The big corporate interests such as Monsanto do not want to see that happen because it will be bad for their business, pure and simple. The bill, S-2609, was in some degree a misnomer, because it would make the labeling voluntary, which begs the question: what food companies would volunteer the presence of genetically engineered ingredients in their products? The answer is few to none.

The simple fact remains that an overwhelming majority of American consumers feel that they have the right to know what is in their food. That sentiment gave rise to the “right to know if it’s GMO” slogan used at several public rallies and on social media platforms. The political system is going to have to determine how it will mediate this situation to determine a solution that works for all parties involved.

Tip of the Iceberg

However, I believe, and others have echoed this sentiment in the media whether from the political side or from the strict viewpoint of regulatory controls over the industry; that this issue is just the tip of the iceberg. I believe that the food labeling policy as it relates to genetically engineered ingredients or components is just one piece of a larger set of issues with regard to our food supply.

It is true that a good amount of momentum in this anti-GMO movement has come Gen – Xers and Millennials that are concerned about the health issues that have plagued our country in recent years: increases in the incidences of cancer, autoimmune diseases, autism, and diabetes just to name a few. There are some media reports of consumer groups made up of parents who are petitioning pediatricians throughout the U.S. to send a formal report to Congress regarding the negative effects of GMOs in food and the linkages to certain childhood illnesses.

The trend toward healthier eating and utilization of organic as well as locally raised or locally grown food products is one that I have covered extensively in the past. It is certainly a contributing factor in the decision of the Senate with regard to the “DARK” Act this week. These are the types of issues I am referring to with regard to an entire food industry related set of legislation to make some needed reforms to help better inform the consumer when making food purchasing choices.

The country of origin being disclosed on products is another whole area in regards to food labeling that could be addressed. The issues regarding where our food is actually coming from has been a challenge for Congressional legislation for some time now. It makes sense that if the public is passionate about what ingredients are in a particular product, they would also care strongly about where the product came from.

The issue of organic food scale up is another topic that could use some form of policy solution. The crops and seed for certain staple food products have been genetically engineered by big corporations like Monsanto and Dow Chemical for years. I am currently researching an article on the effects of Monsanto’s Roundup product on soil and agricultural use which has been linked by the World Health Organization to be a carcinogen. The ability, or lack thereof, to scale up the amount of food needed to supply even part of the population with organic food is a huge problem.

Then, the whole issue of access to healthy and fresh food could be addressed by the government. I wrote an entire series of articles on food deserts in America back some time ago, and there are many problems still today with the inability for access to healthy food particularly in inner cities and in very rural areas. The USDA and other government agencies have discussed certain incentive programs to potentially remedy the situation, but they have no real impetus to take action without a Congressional mandate.

Finally, the whole topic of irrigation issues and water supply concerns with fracking and other wastewaters getting into our water table as well as the access for farming communities to water for their crops is another aspect of this subject area that could be explored through the legislative process.

No Longer In the “DARK”

In returning to the topic at hand, the defeat of this Senate bill and the solution presented as an alternative by Senator Merkley, which seems to not have the support to move forward anywhere either, a solution is needed. The compromise bill will be just that, a meeting in the middle. It will make the disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients mandatory for food producers but it will be done without the options in the Merkley bill, and probably entail something more visible on the product packaging than an asterisks.

The result of this vote demonstrated that when people are united in a cause, and this is one of the biggest issues facing the food industry, then the people are heard. We, the consumers, have a right to know what is in the food we eat and we have a right to make informed decisions based on what that information provided to us yields. We have the “right to know if it’s GMO” and the Senate heard that loud and clear, and more importantly they listened. What is left in the weeks to come is for a law that is universal, that makes sense, and that provides the consumer with the information disclosed in a clear manner. I hope the Senate will listen and will provide the public with that legislation, the results from this week give me some degree of confidence that they will do so.

The presence of genetically engineered ingredients in our food is a reality. The issue at hand is how we are going to better inform ourselves as consumers to the presence of these ingredients. This disclosure will raise awareness levels further to the widespread utilization of GMOs in our food supply. The discourse should then shift into a measurable action plan to scale up alternatives that are GMO-free. The stage is set for some landmark changes to potentially take place.

In the event that you are reading this and did not have an active position on this important issue, I encourage you to inform yourselves to do so. The presence of GMOs in food has consequences to us and to our children and to future generations. We have the obligation to make sure our policies provide alternatives and education so that all consumers have access to accurate information in the future.