News Update From The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods
Dear Health Freedom Fighters,
Thursday's Wall Street Journal contains a major in-depth article titled "Laboratory tests belie promises of some 'GMO-free' food labels." The Wall Street Journal purchased and tested 20 products with labels that read "Non-GMO" or "GMO-Free." They found that 11 of the products had evidence of some GMOs and another 5 had even higher levels of contamination.
Virtually all of the products currently sold that are labeled Non-GMO or GMO-Free are made with organic ingredients. Since organic crops are suppose to be free from genetic engineering, you would think that organic products would be able to safely make the claim of Non-GMO or GMO-Free.
Unfortunately, with over 70 million acres of genetically engineered crops planted in the United States, organic crops are being polluted with the pollen from these gene-altered plants destroying the purity of organics.
The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods hopes this Wall Street Journal article will serve as a wake-up call to the natural products industry to get more aggressively engaged in the battle over genetically engineered foods.
While companies such as Eden Foods, Nature's Path Foods, Spectrum Organic Products, Whole Foods Markets, United Natural Foods and others have been actively engaged in working to pass the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act into law, many others have not. The time has come for the entire natural foods industry to join in the battle over genetically engineered foods.
Note: Please visit our "Friends of The Campaign" web page to see companies that have supported our efforts: http://www.thecampaign.org/friends.htm
Passing the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act into law is the fastest way to put the brakes on the rapid growth of genetically engineered crops in the United States. When mandatory labeling legislation was passed in Europe in May 1998, in a matter of months nearly all the grocery chains and food manufactures removed GMOs from their products. Why? Because consumers do not want to buy genetically engineered foods. And when there is no demand, there will soon no longer be a supply.
Please keep in mind that there are only four countries in the world that are commercially growing genetically engineered foods. These are the United States, Argentina, Canada and China. In Europe, genetically engineered crops are only being grown in test fields, and those are often destroyed by anti-GE activists.
The problems created by uncontrolled pollen drift into organic fields can not be over emphasized. Genetically engineered crops are a direct assault on the organic division of the natural products industry.
THE CAMPAIGN'S POSITION ON "NON-GMO" AND "GMO-FREE" LABELING
The Food and Drug Administration issued a Notice on January 18, 2001 titled "Draft Guidance for Industry: Voluntary Labeling Indicating Whether Foods Have or Have Not Been Developed Using Bioengineering." This non-binding document questioned the use of the term GMO-Free arguing that it could be misleading to consumers.
The FDA's position is that GMO-Free indicates a product is 100% free of GMOs and that this was not possible. (The FDA failed to mention that the reason this was not possible is that the USDA and EPA have allowed crops to be polluted by pollen drift.) They also suggested a term such as "not developed using bioengineering" would be a more appropriate label.
The FDA should use similar criteria to what the government requires for Alcohol-Free and Non-Alcoholic beer.
The term Alcohol-Free requires a beer to be 100% free of alcohol. The term Non-Alcoholic indicates a beer that has less than 0.5% alcohol. The government requires that next to the term Non-Alcoholic is a statement indicating that the product can contain up to 0.5% alcohol. So Non-Alcoholic beer does contain low levels of alcohol.
Therefore, the position of The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods is that the term Non-GMO should be permitted with an asterisk referencing a statement on the package indicating to what level it is tested. For example, the statement could say Non-GMO*. When you referred to the asterisk, it would say something like: * Tested to a level of 1% or lower.
The Campaign agrees that labels indicating GMO-Free are probably misleading because it is now virtually impossible to obtain organic foods that are 100% free of pollution from genetically engineered crops. But we also feel it is a sad state of affairs that our government has allowed this genetic pollution to occur in the first place because of their faulty regulations.
The Wall Street Journal article posted below is quite long. But it is worth spending the time to read this detailed report.
Craig Winters Executive Director The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods
Mission Statement: "To create a national grassroots consumer campaign for the purpose of lobbying Congress and the President to pass legislation that will require the labeling of genetically engineered foods in the United States."
Laboratory tests belie promises of some 'GMO-free' food labels
StarLink began turning up in 10% of corn at processors
By Patricia Callahan and Scott Kilman
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
April 5 2001
A year ago, Yves Veggie Cuisine placed a new label on its products: "non-GMO." That six-letter term is supposed to signify that a product isn't made from crops that have been genetically modified. IT'S AN IMPORTANT designation for many natural-foods consumers, such as the customers of Yves, a Canadian maker of vegetarian dishes sold throughout the U.S.
If it didn't exclude genetically modified organisms, founder Yves Potvin worries, Yves might "lose a certain segment of our consumers."
But are Yves ingredients truly unmodified? A recent sample of Yves Canadian Veggie Bacon, purchased from a Chicago grocery store, had a significant concentration of genetically modified soybeans. A laboratory test conducted for The Wall Street Journal showed that about 40 percent of the soybean DNA detected in the sample came from genetically modified plants.
Informed of this result, Yves halted production of its Veggie Bacon line. It also notified its retailers that the Veggie Bacon boxes on their shelves contain a genetically modified ingredient. Yves, which has annual sales of $60 million, says it pays its suppliers extra for ingredients that are screened - last year, the additional cost was $500,000 - and that genetically modified soybeans ended up in the product as the result of a supplier mix-up. An Yves spokesman said the amount found in the Journal's test is "impossible," and that the company is conducting its own laboratory analysis of Veggie Bacon. Yves isn't recalling packages already on the shelves because "there are no safety or health issues" associated with genetically modified soybeans, he said.
A HOT TREND
The non-GMO label - the initials stand for "genetically modified organisms" - is one of the hottest trends in food marketing. Virtually unknown in the U.S. as recently as three years ago, the label now pops up in nearly every aisle of the supermarket, on hundreds of products ranging from pasta, produce and breakfast cereal to frozen entrees, condiments and beverages. The designation is so new that most marketing firms don't track it as a separate category. But industry executives believe the non-GMO segment is growing about as fast as that of organic products - foods produced without synthetic chemicals - a $7.8 billion market that is increasing at eight times the rate of the packaged food business as a whole.
In late January, a national telephone poll funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 75 percent of respondents wanted to know about the presence of genetically modified ingredients in food, and 58 percent opposed such ingredients. For a growing number of Americans, the non-GMO label is the basis for choosing one brand of energy bar or tortilla chip over another. "It's 90 percent of my decision whether I'm going to buy" a particular product, says Debra Daniels-Zeller, a 48-year-old vegetarian-cooking teacher and writer in Edmonds, Wash.
WHEN 'GMO-FREE' ISN'T
But consumers are getting more genetically modified ingredients than they think. The Yves sample was one of 20 food products that a prominent food laboratory tested on behalf of the Journal. Each of the products bore a label that read "non-GMO" or "GMO-free," or otherwise specified that none of the crops used to make ingredients were genetically modified. Of the 20 products tested, 11 contained evidence of genetic material used to modify plants and another five contained more-substantial amounts.
It isn't possible to determine whether the Journal's test results reflect the industry average. No government agency or trade group verifies the accuracy of non-GMO labels. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of most genetically modified crops in human food, and these approved ingredients have not been shown to cause health problems.
However, the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act prohibits placing misleading labels on food products. If even a tiny amount of bioengineered material is present in a product bearing a non-GMO label, the manufacturer would be violating the law, says Joseph A. Levitt of the FDA. Any company that did this "would have to change its label," says Mr. Levitt, director of the agency's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
While it's clear many consumers want a non-GMO label, it isn't clear that companies can apply such a label with absolute certainty. Some of their own suppliers advise against the use of any label suggesting a product is free of genetically modified ingredients. For example, DuPont Co., which supplies soybean powder to companies pitching non-GMO brands, won't guarantee that its product is free of genetically modified DNA. "To get the figure of zilch is very difficult," says Nigel Hill, a vice president of DuPont's Protein Technologies International unit.
The problem, regulators and growers say, is that some genetically modified crops - which have been designed to resist disease, pests and chemicals - can cross-pollinate freely with regular crops, passing along their altered traits to the next generation. This has already proved to be the case with StarLink, a brand of corn that was genetically modified to produce its own pesticide. In the mid-1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency determined from routine tests that StarLink might cause allergic reactions in some people. As a result, the government didn't approve StarLink for human consumption and it was planted purely as a feed for livestock on just 0.4 percent of U.S. corn acres.
RECALLING THE CORN DOGS
But recently, StarLink began turning up in 10 percent of corn at some of the nation's big grain processors. Over the past six months, more than 300 food products have been recalled after testing positive for StarLink, including certain batches of Kraft taco shells, Kroger corn tortillas and a Kellogg unit's meatless corn dog. Dozens of people have reported to health authorities that they believe they had allergic reactions to eating products made from StarLink. Aventis SA, the French pharmaceuticals concern that invented StarLink, submitted data to the government to show the toxin is present in food in such tiny amounts that it can't trigger an allergic reaction in humans.
Unlike StarLink, the genetically modified soybean and corn most often found in food is cleared for human consumption. It is also grown much more widely on U.S. farms. For example, Monsanto Co. five years ago introduced a soybean implanted with a gene from a soil microorganism to make the plant invulnerable to the company's Roundup weedkiller. The altered soybeans save farmers a lot of time by making it possible for them to weed fields chemically without harming their crop. As a result, half of the soybeans grown in the U.S. last year contained the Monsanto gene.
In the tests conducted for the Journal, several soybean products bearing non-GMO labels tested positive for Monsanto's gene. One example was Health Valley Soy O's Honey Nut Cereal. The box proclaims it's "the first great-tasting cereal made with the healthy benefits of soy protein and contains no genetically modified ingredients." In a sample tested by the Journal, 1.4 percent of the soybean DNA detected came from genetically modified plants.
Health Valley is made by Hain Celestial Group Inc., Uniondale, N.Y., the nation's largest natural-foods manufacturer. In a written statement, Hain questioned the accuracy of the Journal's results, suggesting that "at these levels human error could have resulted in the sample being contaminated" at the lab. The company said that before it made the Soy O's purchased by the Journal, its supplier tested a sample of the lot of crushed soybeans that went into the cereal, and a lab report shows the results were negative.
Hain said it is testing a sample of Soy O's from the batch the Journal bought, and it expects results next week. The company also said it is testing its manufacturing systems to ensure the product wasn't contaminated there. Hain said it requires its suppliers to sign affidavits that they don't use genetically modified soybeans. The company said it remains committed to putting a "contains no genetically modified ingredients" label on its entire line of 2,000 natural-foods products by year end, up from 150 products currently.
The non-GMO claim on energy bars made by Clif Bar Inc. was also contradicted by the Journal's test. In samples from three bars, the highest concentration of genetically modified soybean DNA was found in the chocolate-chip peanut-crunch flavor: 6.6 percent. Regular chocolate-chip flavor had 3.1 percent; carrot-cake flavor contained 1.2 percent.
FOURTEEN PAGES OF PLEDGES
In a written statement, Clif Bar Chief Executive Officer Gary Erickson said the company tests its products at an independent lab and requires its suppliers to certify in writing that the ingredients contain only nonbioengineered soy. He attached 14 pages of pledges from suppliers, as well as test results from Iowa State University's seed-testing laboratory showing that two samples of seed used to grow its crop contained no genetically modified material.
"Despite these state-of-the-art efforts, there remain factors beyond our control that will require advances in agriculture and food-testing practices," Mr. Erickson wrote. "Current agricultural storage, handling and shipping practices make it all but impossible to keep bioengineered soy from contaminating nongenetically engineered soy." The company also said it planned to conduct its own test of the "raw ingredients" used in the Clif Bars purchased by the Journal.
In an interview, Mr. Erickson said the company, based in Berkeley, Calif., is "doing everything it can" to avoid genetically modified ingredients. "That doesn't mean we're not going to make mistakes along the way," he said.
To conduct its tests, the Journal paid GeneScan USA, a unit of Germany's GeneScan Europe AG. Its laboratory in Belle Chasse, La., also performs genetic analysis for some of America's food giants, such as Philip Morris Co.'s Kraft unit. GeneScan USA's president, Michael Russell, won't discuss results of tests his firm has done for other clients, but he says his experience has led him to discourage them from touting products as GMO-free. "You can't promise that," he says.
Mr. Levitt, the FDA official, says the agency is drawing up guidelines for a more accurate labeling system. He says the agency objects to the term "genetically modified organism" because there aren't any living organisms in most food. The agency also dislikes the phrase "non-GMO" because consumers might infer something undesirable has been removed. "The FDA has given the stamp of approval, safetywise" to bioengineered crops being grown for human consumption, he says.
The agency doesn't even require makers of genetically modified food crops to conduct clinical feeding trials of humans or animals. The FDA's position is that the altered crops are safe to eat provided their new genes make substances similar to proteins and enzymes already safely in the food supply. The new genes in all approved genetically modified crops do just that, in the agency's opinion. (In the case of StarLink, the transplanted gene programmed the corn plant to make a completely new version of a natural pesticide.)
But some scientists worry that moving a gene from an unrelated species into a plant could upset a delicate balance, perhaps by triggering its new host to suddenly increase production of a toxin normally made only in small amounts. Many plants, such as tomatoes and potatoes, make very complicated chemical compounds, including some that can be poisonous.
Some consumers also fear that health problems, such as serious food allergies, could arise in the future from eating even trace amounts of genetically modified food. There is also a concern among some consumers about eating foods, such as Monsanto's modified "Roundup Ready" soybeans, that have been specifically designed to be sprayed with chemical herbicides.
Another issue is that changing the nature of plants could damage nature at large. Recent studies by Cornell University and Iowa State University have found that pollen from a genetically modified corn plant might be fatal to the Monarch butterfly. "We humans are unleashing a potential disaster for the natural balance of all life forms on this planet," warns the Web site of Nature's Path Foods Inc., a Canadian cereal maker that uses a non-GMO label.
Across the Atlantic, concerns such as these in the late 1990s prompted an outcry unlike anything witnessed in the U.S. Consumer groups protested the creation of what they called "Frankenfoods." Supermarkets began touting their house brands as made from unmodified ingredients. In 1998, the European Union passed a law requiring food companies to place labels on products containing genetically modified ingredients. In an acknowledgment that zero tolerance is unrealistic, the EU in January 2000 began mandating the label only on products containing 1 percent or more of a genetically modified material.
Having won the labeling battle, European critics of genetically modified food - most notably the environmental group Greenpeace - decided two years ago to export the cause. Until then, neither Americans nor American food companies had shown much concern about genetically modified ingredients, which had been streaming into the U.S. food supply since 1996.
GREENPEACE LEANS ON GERBER
Figuring that new parents are especially concerned about food safety, Greenpeace focused on the nation's largest baby-food maker, Gerber Products Co. When a Greenpeace-funded laboratory test in 1999 found an unspecified amount of genetically modified material in Gerber Mixed Cereal for Baby, the company immediately announced that it would ask its suppliers to provide only unmodified ingredients.
The Gerber announcement made front-page news. But while Gerber took the position to avoid negative publicity, other food companies saw in it a chance for positive attention. After all, while the packaged-food industry was growing at a rate of barely 2.6 percent a year, the natural-foods market was growing at double-digit rates. Clif Bar, for example, saw its 2000 sales jump nearly 80 percent to $71 million. Hain has posted such steady gains that slow-growing H.J. Heinz Co. bought an 18 percent stake in it.
Taking the Gerber move a step further, scores of other natural-foods makers not only requested unmodified ingredients from suppliers, but also placed non-GMO labels on their products.
Those products enjoy prominent space on the shelves of many stores, including the nation's largest natural-foods retailing chain, Whole Foods Market Inc., based in Austin, Texas. Long a promoter of organic foods, Whole Foods now urges the companies whose products it stocks to use nongenetically modified ingredients. Brochures in its 121 stores warn customers about the potential dangers of genetically modified crops.
The brochures also promise that the retailer itself is working to eliminate genetically modified ingredients from its hundreds of house-brand products. Since last year, the company has changed recipes of some products to cut out genetically modified ingredients, has had its suppliers sign contracts that they won't use such ingredients and has regularly tested its products at an independent lab. Take its "365"-brand soy burgers. "That's one of the products where I'd like to put a (non-GMO) sticker on the outside of the box," said Denis Ring, a manager of the 365 brand, in a recent interview. "Since last summer, all of our soy burgers are made from soy that was guaranteed made from non-GMO."
But the Journal laboratory tests, which also examined some products not bearing the non-GMO label, found that 21 percent of the soybean DNA present in a sample of Whole Food's 365 low-fat Meat Free Gourmet Burger originated from Roundup Ready plants.
Mr. Ring said the box of soy burgers the Journal bought was produced in the early fall of 1999 - before the company's supplier converted to non-genetically modified soy. "I omitted to comment on the possibility that there could have been older inventory still in distribution," Mr. Ring said of his earlier statement about the status of the soy burgers.
Mr. Ring noted that the company never publicly said its soy burgers did not contain genetically modified ingredients. Still, Whole Foods is now asking its stores to destroy or donate to a food bank any vegetarian burgers made before January 2000, when the company says its supplier converted to non-GMO soy. Mr. Ring said he hopes to have all of the vegetarian burgers that may contain genetically modified ingredients off the shelf by the end of this week. "We're trying to eliminate any chance for customer confusion," Mr. Ring said.
Across the country, small grain mills are springing up to fill the demand for nongenetically modified ingredients. One example is Natural Products Inc., an Iowa miller that handles only non-GMO soybeans. After refining it into flour, it tests a Dixie-Cup-sized sample from every order, which can weigh tons.
The process is so imperfect that Paul Lang, managing director of Natural Products, shakes his head at the sight of a carton of Silk-brand soymilk sitting in his office. The carton promises that its contents are "Certified GMO Free Soy." Mr. Lang, whose company has supplied Silk parent White Wave Inc., says, "There's no such thing as certified GMO-free."
That is also the position of SunRich Inc., based in Hope, Minn., another supplier of nongenetically modified product to White Wave. "I wouldn't say GMO free," says Allan Routh, SunRich chief executive.
White Wave's Silk is the nation's biggest brand of refrigerated soymilk. The company, which also makes tofu and other soy products, has annual sales of about $80 million and is growing at a triple-digit rate. White Wave founder and president Steve Demos insisted in a recent interview that Silk soymilk is "100 percent non-GMO," a claim he said countless laboratory tests commissioned by White Wave have confirmed. "The Silk product has come up zeroes every time," Mr. Demos said. But in the Journal test, a sample of three DNA extracts from the same sample of Silk Chocolate Soymilk tested positive for the presence of genetic material commonly used to bioengineer plants. So little was detected that the source of the material couldn't be verified.
Informed of the test results, Steve McCutcheon, director of quality assurance at White Wave, said Wednesday that the genetic material had never been detected in tests conducted for it over the past few years by Genetic ID, an independent laboratory in Fairfield, Iowa.
Mr. McCutcheon said White Wave officials have been making plans to change the Silk carton later this year and that the company would "probably" back away from its absolute claim that the product contains "Certified GMO Free Soy." But in a separate interview shortly afterward, Mr. Demos, the White Wave president, said the company has no plans to change the label.
Mr. Demos also yesterday retracted his earlier statement that Silk was "100 percent non-GMO" and noted that "we don't say anything on the product about 100 percent." He challenged the reliability of the Journal's test results, saying that he believes the Silk product tested by the Journal "lived up to the standard of GMO free." "We do not believe that there is any evidence based on methodology that is repeatable and verifiable that our product is anything but that," he said.
Even the most scrupulous farmers can fail to keep bioengineered crops separate from conventional ones, as Iowa Soy, a processor based in Vinton, Iowa, can attest. The company, which was founded three years ago by investors and farmers anticipating the demand for nongenetically modified products, has imposed an elaborate system of security measures.
It checks the seeds used by its farmers, who last year grew a total of 3,000 acres of soybeans for the company. Growers are given instructions for cleaning their equipment and are required to fill out reports about their cultivation practices. Iowa Soy representatives inspect each field before harvest.
'WE STILL HAVE REJECTS'
Outcome: 5 percent of the crop screened by Iowa Soy turned up positive for genetically modified material. "Even with all the steps we take, we still have these rejects," says Dan Van Steenhuyse, president of Iowa Soy.
Indeed, neither the ecosystem nor the U.S. agricultural system is designed to maintain separation of two crops that look identical - and in fact are identical except for one gene.
The problem starts with seed. When a farmer purchases a bag of conventional corn seed, there are no guarantees that all of the kernels are unmodified. Even if the seed came from a field of unmodified corn harvested the previous autumn, some of that corn may have been fertilized by pollen carried on the wind from a genetically modified field miles away.
Once the farmer plants the seed, that same phenomenon can repeat itself, with wind-borne pollen increasing the reach of genetically modified corn. Come harvest, the farmer may use the same equipment to gather both modified and unmodified crops; many farmers grow both. Even a thorough cleaning of the equipment between fields can leave grain in the recesses of a combine, and a farmer during harvest may inadvertently mix different crops from his own fields. Few farmers can afford two separate sets of equipment.
The grain elevator - which stores crops until they're sold - is also a potential trouble spot. Inadequate testing of farmer shipments can result in a load of genetically modified crop contaminating millions of bushels of conventional crop. These days, some elevators are paying a premium for crops that aren't genetically modified, giving farmers an incentive to advertise their harvest as such.
The next link in the chain is the grain processor, which buys crops from farmers and grain elevators and mills them into ingredients used by such companies as Coca-Cola Co., McDonald's Corp. and Kellogg Co. The biggest grain processors, Cargill Inc. and Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., grind and crush millions of bushels a day. They can't slow down the production of some products to separate genetically modified kernels from conventional kernels.
There doesn't appear to be any simple way of closing the gap between what labels promise and what laboratory tests reveal. In the European Union, the new disclosure requirement squelched public outcry, creating among consumers what is likely a false sense of security about products not labeled as genetically modified. The problem: Enforcement is left to individual countries, most of which make little or no effort to test consumer products. A recent and rare test by the Swedish government found that 10 out of 100 products not labeled as containing genetically modified ingredients had levels higher than 1 percent, a violation of law.
One possibility would be for companies to talk about efforts rather than outcomes. This is what Gerber did. Its public statements merely promised that the company would strive to exclude genetically modified ingredients. It never placed a non-GMO label on its baby food, because it doesn't believe it could back up such a label. "I don't think anybody in the U.S. can guarantee zero," says Frank Palantoni, chief executive of the North American consumer-health businesses for Gerber parent Novartis AG.
But consumers might not catch the subtlety. Articles in newspapers and mainstream magazines have tended to focus more on the promise than on the hedge. Jennifer Hough, a 30-year-old dietician in Winston-Salem, N.C., said she read about Gerber's efforts, and consequently chose Gerber to feed to her baby daughter.
The Journal tests found that 1.1 percent of the corn DNA in a sample of Gerber Mixed Cereal for Baby was from genetically modified plants, as was 11 percent of the corn DNA detected in a sample of Gerber Creamed Corn. When told of this result, Mrs. Hough said she would switch brands, even though it isn't clear that any baby food can guarantee the absence of any genetically modified ingredients. "I guess I should know better than to believe everything I read," she said.
Jan Relford, Gerber senior vice president of research, said the Journal tests of the box of Gerber Mixed Cereal for Baby, which was manufactured last September, confirms its own findings. Despite the company's switch to organic corn in 1999, its own tests detected genetically modified DNA in its dry cereal. So in December, Gerber gave up and replaced the corn with a grain that it's sure isn't genetically modified: rice. Gerber said its boxes of the dry cereal containing corn might linger on store shelves for up to a year.
Unlike its approach to dry cereal, Gerber doesn't test jars of baby food for genetically modified DNA. The company assumes that processing and high-temperature sterilization destroys plant DNA, and that if any survives, it can't be accurately measured. "We don't think your test method is valid," says Mr. Relford of the Journal's result for Gerber's creamed corn.
GeneScan stands by its numbers. The lab calculates that about 90 percent of the corn DNA - but not all of it - was destroyed by Gerber's processing. Gerber routinely retains GeneScan to test for genetically modified ingredients in its own products. Last year, GeneScan found a trace of genetically modified DNA in a sample of raw corn grown for Gerber's Creamed Corn, according to Gerber.
"It would be really tough for somebody to say they are GMO-free," says Gerber's Mr. Relford. "That's why we've never said that."