Non-GMO Project gets rolling

Organic a 'dirty room' in need of cleaning: An organic and natural-foods industry group has begun a campaign to test products and label those "Non-GMO" that are largely free of biotech ingredients, reports William Neumann in the Times' Business section. Neumann focuses solely on the competitive business aspect of the genetically modified food debate, that growing contamination in the organic supply chain (from crop cross-polination, processing equipment that handles both, etc) might eventually undercut consumer confidence in organic if retailers don't take pre-emptive action to test and reject products that have more than 0.9% genetically modified material, Europe's standard. The labels still have to pass muster with the FDA and cannot make any health claims. The health concerns consumers have with  biotech foods — allergies, lack of long-term research — are dispensed with in a few perfunctory sentences. (We miss Neumann's predecessor Andrew Martin, whose stellar reporting on the U.S. food system in his "Food Chain" series gradually became ever more in-depth and critical before he abandoned us for the banking beat.) (New York Times)

5 Responsesto “Non-GMO Project gets rolling”

  1. I'm really curious to find out how much this label adds to the cost of the foods that carry it. Although polls have shown that up to 90% of people in the US want GE foods to be labeled, as soon as the cost factors in this desire starts to dry up. I posted this to Marion Nestle's blog, Food Politics:

    In a 2001 CSPI poll, they got some interesting results:
    “Many consumers desire information on food labels about how foods and their ingredients were produced. A strong majority wanted foods containing GE ingredients to be labeled, 62% in one question (Question #2) and 70% in another (Question #3). To put those response rates in a larger context, the survey asked about the labeling of other technologies. Seventy six percent of consumers wanted labeling for crops grown using pesticides (Question #3), 65% for crops grown using plant hormones (Question #3), and 56% for crops that were imported (Question #2). Remarkably, 40% of respondents said that they would like products containing cross-bred corn to be labeled (Question #3).”
    Given four choices for their highest food priority, one of which being GE food labeling, and another being pesticide residue labeling, only 17% of respondents chose GE labels, while 31% chose pesticides.
    This is backed up by studies done on actual purchasing behaviors – when given the choice between genetic engineering and pesticides, two studies done on sweet corn in Canada and California, and a study done on fruit in the EU all agree that people choose the GE option over the pesticide option.
    Why aren’t there people campaigning to have pesticides all labeled on food and food products, when the majority of consumers have expressed a desire to know that information about the food they eat? Personally, I would like to know if the food I eat comes from a farm that used conservation tillage, no tillage, and/or integrated pest management. But the cost of implementing such a system would be too much right now unless it could be made more cost-effective.
    Since then, I know of other polls that show higher percentages (87%) for those who want labeling for GE crops. But as the 2001 poll (and other conducted elsewhere, such as when Oregon was considering a ban on GE crops) have shown that most consumers are not willing to pay anything more than $10 per year out of their food budget to have these labels. Only 28% of consumers polled would be willing to pay 0.9% more for their food (~$50 per year) to have these labels. Even amongst the 17% of people who placed GE labels as a high priority, still 50% of them indicated that they would not be willing to pay more than $10 per year for those labels.
    Doesn’t it make more sense for the few people that are willing to pay more for GE/non-GE labels, that they should shoulder the cost in niche markets, such as Whole Foods?
    So while polls continue to show that people want more information on foods and food products, that information comes at a cost, and most consumers are not willing to pay more to have that information. I believe it is both an issue of science and of consumer choice. In particular, when you look at the science ON consumer choice it indicates a more complex set of desires that don’t necessarily support a simple “GE” label. (one UK study noted that it did not affect purchasing behavior noticably.) For the record, I’m not an opponent of labeling per se.
    It seems to me that as the 'GMO-free' is a niche market, that having those markets shoulder the cost of testing and labeling makes more sense than making all consumers pay for something that only a small sector of society cares about. Just my two cents and a french fry.

  2. Heidi says:

    I care about this subject a lot.  And I bet a lot more people would if they actually understood the real possibility for dangers associated with eating GMO foods.  I'll pay the extra money for now - until the gov't starts to wake up (if ever) and admit they were wrong for letting these products into the market without proper testing in the first place.  Shameful, if you ask me.

  3. Re: Heidi,

    You do know that there have been hundreds of published safety assessments done on GE crops, right? Here is a list of many of these papers, and about 30% of them were done by completely independent labs with no connection to the industry.
    There aren't many people out there who have taken the time to help people to understand this information, something I and others are trying to help with.

  4. Heidi says:

    Here is the problem I have.  These crops are genetically modified to allow a certain pesticide to be used on them, and one which will kill all other competing weeds.  Why, when there are perfectly good alternatives to this, are we using GMO crops?  Especially when it is proven that using these harmful pesticides also reduces the amount of viable topsoil we have?  And also when using GMO crops has been proven to mess with the ecology of a given area - i.e. the Monarchs, and other insects which normally would be a help to farmers instead of a nuisance?  Do you agree that companies who sell GMO crops should be allow to sue farmers due to cross pollination?   I do not.  Are we supposed to some how have control over the winds now, and whether or not we inadvertently infringe on a patented product?   There are many more issues than just if GMO foods are safe, and I for one, would rather not support them.  Besides the fact that I doubt there have been many long term studies done on the effect on HUMAN health.  Not animal or otherwise.   And what about GMO wheat and it's effect in India?  From what I understand it's causing many deaths of farmers and other issues.  What is wrong with fruits and vegetables in their natural form?  Nature provided them in such a way that they were made to be the most nutritious and beneficial to humans and other animals in their natural form.  I for one, see no need to mess with perfection.

  5. Danielle says:

    Heidi,  I am right there with you on the GMO food issues from health to ethical issues, farm to table.  I feel the documentary, The Future of Food  is a great start in knowing what is going on in the world and who will control the food we eat, if more consumers don't start standing up for their rights and doing something....anything!