We want GMO Labels, but We Need Reliable Standards
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Voluntary labeling of GMO foods (or non-GMO foods) has become increasingly common, but there are no uniform standards
The label on that apple says it’s GMO-free, but how can you trust it?
According to the AP, 66 percent of Americans would support GMO labeling. However, because GMO labeling is not yet a national law, that means there are no uniform standards or compliance regulations for the GMO labels that are actually out there.
Right now, the nutrition facts label looks uniform on the back of every single food and drink package in America, because it is backed by legislation. However, for GMO-free foods, labeling has led to a lot of consumer confusion because a variety of designs, organizations, and agencies have given their seal of approval on a wide range of products, according to The New York Times. Most Americans want their GMO products labeled, and would be willing to pay more for non-GMO products, but voluntary labeling hasn’t helped the problem — it has added to the confusion and, ultimately, has not impacted our consumer habits as much as we thought it would.
The Non-GMO Project explained that certified non-GMO products tripled in sales in 2013, but $8.5 billion in sales represents only a small fraction of grocery stores’ total sales of $620 billion in 2013.
Without uniform consumer labels, people are highly unlikely to discern the difference between a GMO product and a non-GMO product, according to research by the Hartman Group. Here’s a hint: products made from corn, soy, canola, and sugar beets are almost guaranteed to be GMOs.
Quel fromage! Whole Foods' GMO labels make trouble for cheesemakers
Vermont-based cheesemaker Angela Miller finds it hard to meet the Whole Foods standard: “We do add corn feed, and for a long time, we fed organic feed, and then it was too expensive for us – it’s double the cost.” Photograph: Corbis Photograph: Corbis
Vermont-based cheesemaker Angela Miller finds it hard to meet the Whole Foods standard: “We do add corn feed, and for a long time, we fed organic feed, and then it was too expensive for us – it’s double the cost.” Photograph: Corbis Photograph: Corbis
Last modified on Fri 8 Aug 2014 18.55 BST
W alking with the tousled-haired Mateo Kehler is a practice in patience. It’s rare for him to travel two steps before he’s greeted by name, his hands are clasped, and he’s embraced by fellow cheesemakers, cheesemongers and buyers of his award-winning Jasper Hill cheeses. Among the nearly 1,000 attendees at the American Cheese Society’s annual conference in Sacramento last week, the name “Mateo” required no last name, no qualifier. In this world, he’s a mononymous superstar, a Bono or Beyonce.
Kehler isn’t merely a leader in the American artisan cheese renaissance he’s also knee-deep in the nation’s curdling fight over GMO labeling. He’s based in Vermont, the first state in the nation to pass a GMO labeling law. For now, the law excludes dairy products, pending a report by Attorney General Bill Sorrell due in January 2015.
The dairy cows that Kehler depends upon to make cheeses like his bark-wrapped Harbison, buttery Alpha Tolman and gooey washed-rind Winnamere are not genetically modified. However, a small part of their feed comes from genetically engineered corn. For the moment, that’s not an issue in Kehler’s home state, but he says it’s a looming worry.
The reason? Whole Foods, which last year became the first national chain to set a deadline – of 2018 – for full GMO transparency: “We heard our customers loud and clear asking us for GMO labeling and we are responding where we have control: in our own stores,” writes Walter Robb, co-CEO, in the company’s initial announcement.
But the company is going beyond transparency and, in some categories, expressing a clear preference for GMO-free products. President and COO AC Gallo writes, “We are going beyond finished packaged products with a focus on meat, dairy, eggs and fish. To be labeled as non-GMO or organic, animals providing these products must be fed non-GMO or organic feed.”
This focus on ingredients extends all the way up the supply chain. As Gallo explains, “Beer, wine and cheese will also need special consideration, since the use of genetically modified enzymes is fairly common when making these products.”
As the largest specialty cheese retailer in the nation, Whole Foods’ decision casts a long shadow across the industry. For producers who want to continue selling their products there, the scramble to source non-GMO ingredients is heating up. The company’s standards are still developing, but by 2018, its producers will have to label products made from GMO ingredients – including dairy and meat products derived from livestock fed with genetically engineered crops.
Kehler explains that this could be an insurmountable supply-chain problem. “There isn’t a large supply of non-GMO grain,” he says. “In Vermont, there’s one mill that supplies it and they’re not taking customers. We’re on a waiting list,” he says.
Our Non-GMO Standards
We&rsquove based our non-GMO standard on the mandatory declaration requirements of European regulations and the GMO labeling law passed in our home state of Vermont. Our dairy and egg suppliers still use conventional animal feeds that contain GMO grains. We are actively seeking cost-effective options for farmers within our supply chain to convert to non-GMO animal feed.
We reached this non-GMO milestone in 2014 when we completed the transition of all plant-based ingredients in all* of our ice cream flavors to non-GMO.
As a part of our commitment to transparency, and for those folks who really like to know the details, below is an explanation of exactly what we mean by 'non-GMO.'
When we refer to a "GMO", we are using this term as most popularly used and widely understood in the US (though there are varying definitions). As such, a "GMO" (or "genetically modified organism") is an organism that has been created using gene-splicing techniques, which allow DNA from one species to be injected into another species in a laboratory. This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional cross-breeding methods.
"Non-GMO by Origin" refers to non-GMO according to the original seed source. Either the crop is not commercially available as a GMO crop or, if the option is available, refers to the non-GMO version. Traceability to the original non-GMO seed source is key. This is the standard that Ben & Jerry's adheres to when sourcing our ingredients.
"Non-GMO by IP" refers to non-GMO Identity Preserved crops. Identity Preservation requires practices and processes for controlling contamination from at-risk GMO inputs and ingredients. Traceability, segregation, risk assessment, sampling techniques, quality control management and analytical testing are emphasized. Ben & Jerry's does not require this from our suppliers, but many choose to supply ingredients that meet this standard. This is a standard that is slightly more rigid than Non-GMO by Origin, and therefore anything considered Non-GMO IP is also considered Non-GMO by Origin.
"PCR Testing" refers to the Polymerase Chain Reaction test that can be used to detect genetic material (DNA) in a sample. PCR(-) refers to an ingredient that was derived from a GMO source, but the genetic material is not detectable in the finished product, likely due to it being a highly refined or processed product. PCR(-) alone is not an acceptable standard for Ben & Jerry's ingredients, but will be used as a verification tool when appropriate.
Ben & Jerry's "Non-GMO" standards:
Ben & Jerry's adheres to sourcing "Non-GMO by Origin" ingredients for use in our products based on the following standards. This means we rely primarily on traceability of ingredients through the supply chain back to a non-GMO seed, rather than relying on PCR testing.
Our suppliers use the following guidelines to ensure the ingredients they provide to us are "Non-GMO by Origin":
- All suppliers must use "Non-GMO by Origin" ingredients, (including any sub-components or excepients) in the manufacture of items they supply to Ben & Jerry's.
- "Non-GMO by IP" is also acceptable.
- For any plant-based raw material derived from sugar beets, corn, soy, canola, or other crop that is commercially available in GMO varieties, suppliers must source "Non-GMO by Origin" materials.
- Suppliers to Ben & Jerry's that also handle GMO raw materials or finished products in their production facilities must take appropriate measures to segregate GMO and Non-GMO materials at all times and ensure proper cleaning measures are employed. There may be no comingling of ingredients or finished products at any point during storage or processing. There is no tolerance for use of GMO ingredients in any product supplied to Ben & Jerry's.
- Suppliers may use ingredients obtained from fermentation and processing aids or enzymes that are derived from GMOs in some circumstances, to be approved on a case-by-case basis by Ben & Jerry's.
- Suppliers will be audited for "Non-GMO by Origin" traceability and segregation compliance as part of Ben & Jerry's audit procedures. Supportive documentation review, site visits, and PCR testing at any point in the supply chain, may be part of the audit protocol. Suppliers must provide documentation and certification that materials are "Non-GMO by Origin" upon request.
We've based our non-GMO standard on the mandatory declaration requirements of European regulations and the GMO labeling law passed by our home state of Vermont. This standard does not address animal feed. To be clear, the fresh milk and cream we source from family farmers is conventionally sourced. It is common practice for dairy cows' feed to contain GMO ingredients such as corn and soy.
We aspire to build a sustainable dairy supply chain in the Northeast region that does not use GMO feeds. We are working with numerous companies in the dairy industry and in the major commodity chains toward that goal through our participation in the Non-GMO Supply Working Group and Northeast Dairy Project.
Will you let your senators know how you feel about GMO labeling?
Let us know by leaving a comment below.
“More than 90 percent of consumers want GMO labeling on food packaging,” says Halloran. “Increasingly, consumers are looking for more transparency from food companies, not less. If the Roberts’ bill passes, it will be a big step backwards. The Merkley bill gives manufacturers options while still giving consumers the information they want.”
If you support GMO labeling, now is the time to alert your senators. We make it easy by providing a form that lets you send your message instantly.
Editor's note: This is an update of a previous article published Feb. 23, 2016.
Since the dawn of time, human beings and animals alike have asked the question every day, “What should I eat?” We need to know not just what tastes good, but what is good for our survival and for our long-term health. We employ our sense of smell, taste, sight and touch, our intelligence, our knowledge of cause and effect and our culture to help us decide what to eat.
Common Food Product Certifications and Labeling Terms
New food businesses are always excited to market their products with all the food label terms available in their arsenal.
Before you slap an “organic” or “gluten-free” label on your packaging though, make sure you know what it means, what you have to do in order to use it, and if it requires testing or certification.
We’ll cover the main certifications here and get you ready to market your product accurately, safely, and in compliance with bodies like the FDA and USDA.
A few of the common certifications you might see on food label.
We’ll also explain which claims are not regulated by these bodies - terms like “Natural”, “Vegan”, and “Raw”.
Keep in mind that you should always label your products in a truthful and not misleading manner. If you follow that rule of thumb, you should be OK.
Many new products claim to be gluten free or avoid gluten ingredients. However, gluten-free usually requires testing and certification .
The FDA governs the regulation of the term “gluten-free”, as you can see in the link above. According to the FDA’s 2013 regulation, gluten-free means that a food contains fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten. Even if none of the ingredients have gluten, the risk of cross-contamination in processing requires most products to be tested to ensure this standard of 20 ppm is met.
However, the FDA does not actually endorse any 3rd party gluten-free certification, so it’s a somewhat self-policing label. While the FDA does not require testing, you are responsible for ensuring that any foods bearing a gluten-free claim meet the 20 ppm requirement.
There is also no official seal or logo or font to be used to identify a food as gluten-free.
Organic is a USDA designation for products that meet certain requirements.
Organic products come from animals that aren’t given any antibiotics or growth hormones and plants that don’t use most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, bioengineering or radiation.
An official certifier has to inspect the farm or product to make sure these guidelines are followed. There are also standards for handling and processing. If approved, your product can use the organic seal.
Beyond that, there are a few different levels of organic claims:
- 100% Organic . Products that are completely organic or made of only organic ingredients.
- Organic . Products with at least 95% of their ingredients being organic.
- Made with Organic Ingredients . Products with at least 70% of their ingredients being certified organic.
However, even without an organic certification, you can identify which ingredients are organic via your ingredient list.
“Natural” is one of the least understood and most contested claims. Consumers associate it with something good, but there’s no formal definition from the FDA, or any association of food producers. The FDA requires labeling information to be “truthful and not misleading”, so it still shouldn’t be used willy-nilly.
"Natural" generally means being minimally processed and not containing added color, artificial flavor or synthetic substances. The USDA defines it, stating that “natural” meat, poultry, and egg products be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. It does not, however, include any standards for farming practices. If using the label, a statement must accompany it explaining the meaning of the term (such as “no artificial ingredients minimally processed”).
While the FDA hasn’t taken a stand, there have been a few cases in the courts. One company was forced into a multi-million dollar settlement for labeling their products as “natural” despite having GMO ingredients, artificial or synthetic ingredients. That can be taken as a guideline for what does and doesn’t define “natural” until the FDA and USDA take more a more formal approach on the matter.
“Natural” is not permitted in a product’s ingredient list except for in terms like “natural flavorings”.
“Vegan” has a relatively clear definition in the vegan and general community, but (like “natural”) does not have a formal definition from the FDA, USDA, or FTC for the purposes of labeling.
“Vegan” means the product doesn’t contain ingredients of animal origin , including milk, eggs, honey, and gelatin. Of course, meat, poultry and fish are not vegan either.
There are varying levels of veganism though, and you’ll sometimes see a product labeled as vegan, with a clarifying statement right below that might say “contains honey”, or something similar. That is acceptable in many eyes, since it is transparent to consumers and not misleading.
While not required, there are various certification programs that may establish more trust with your customers. These certifications are usually a bit more strict than the above definition of vegan, and may require that no animal testing has been done on any ingredients as well as some additional levels of scrutiny.
Raw is a fairly new term that we’ve been seeing on food labels and in food marketing in general. As it is so new, it is also not governed by the FDA or USDA , or any other body. As always, any food claiming to be “Raw” should be truthful and not misleading, otherwise the FDA can take action against a false claim.
Raw foodists believe that you gain greater health and nutrition benefits from processing foods as minimally as possible. So, no pasteurization, and minimal heating and processing. On a more technical level, raw foods should not be heated above approximately 115 degrees.
Edit (August 18, 2015): With all the brands claiming to be raw, the industry has worked on creating standards for what that means. That initiative has been run by the International Center for Integrative Systems. Their project, Raw Food Certified, is offering certification for raw foods. Both websites offer more information on standards, certification, how it works, and more resources on the subject of raw foods.
Kosher foods have to be prepared from specific foods, by specific people and equipment, in a specific manner, and certified by one of many Kosher agencies.
However different Kosher certification agencies follow different standards , with some more and others less strict. Different certification and symbols mean different things, so if you are targeting a specific market it may be important to get not just any certification, but the right one for your target market.
On a high level, kosher means that foods don’t use pork products, meat and dairy cannot be combined, slaughter must be performed in a specific manner, and food must be produced with kosher utensils and machinery that are not used to make non-kosher foods or used for both meat and dairy products.
GMO means “genetically modified organism” . Specifically, it means a plant or animal created through genetic engineering (combining genes from different species to create a new one) in a lab environment that goes beyond traditional crossbreeding.
This area is a highly controversial debate that we can’t get into here, but many consumers worry about GMO products and hence food companies may want to market their products as “Non-GMO”.
Organic products are prohibited from using GMOs, so if your product is organic it is also by definition a non-GMO product.
To use a “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal, you have to be certified by the Non GMO Project. They will verify that each ingredient you use is non-GMO (with a 0.9% threshold, due to testing limitations) and perform annual audits.
The process can take quite some time (4-6 months) and also be somewhat expensive, of course depending on the ingredients you use in your product and their level of GMO risk.
That covers the most common certifications and food labels you might want to use. Of course, we could write a separate article on each one of these (we might!), but consider this an introduction.
If you plan on using one of these terms on your label make sure you understand what it means, what is required to use it, and never mislead your consumers .
Why Brands Choose Compostable Packaging
Compostable Packaging is the most sustainable packaging the planet has to offer. Smart, sustainably-minded consumers don&rsquot want to participate in the &ldquoRecyclables Myth&rdquo or associate with companies that use plastic.
Compostable packaging is the best alternative to petroleum-based plastics. It has a tangible impact at every stage of its lifecycle:
- It begins life as sustainably-sourced wood cellulose and other bio-based resins.
- During its life it is non-toxic packaging for both food and non-food products, ensuring that products are not damaged or wasted.
- At end-of-life it is composted and used to enrich the soil.
With the awareness that compostable packaging creates, you and your customers will be key partners in creating mainstream composting access. Mainstream composting will reverse climate change, end landfills, and bring life to our planet&rsquos neglected soil.
Organic 101: Can GMOs Be Used in Organic Products?
The use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is prohibited in organic products. This means an organic farmer can’t plant GMO seeds, an organic cow can’t eat GMO alfalfa or corn, and an organic soup producer can’t use any GMO ingredients. To meet the USDA organic regulations, farmers and processors must show they aren’t using GMOs and that they are protecting their products from contact with prohibited substances, such as GMOs, from farm to table.
Organic operations implement preventive practices based on site-specific risk factors, such as neighboring conventional farms or shared farm equipment or processing facilities. For example, some farmers plant their seeds early or late to avoid organic and GMO crops flowering at the same time (which can cause cross-pollination). Others harvest crops prior to flowering or sign cooperative agreements with neighboring farms to avoid planting GMO crops next to organic ones. Farmers also designate the edges of their land as a buffer zone where the land is managed organically, but the crops aren’t sold as organic. Any shared farm or processing equipment must be thoroughly cleaned to prevent unintended exposure to GMOs or prohibited substances.
All of these measures are documented in the organic farmer’s organic system plan. This written plan describes the substances and practices to be used, including physical barriers to prevent contact of organic crops with prohibited substances or the products of “excluded methods” such as GMOs. On-site inspections and records verify that farmers are following their organic system plan. Additionally, certifying agents conduct residue testing to determine if these preventive practices are adequate to avoid contact with substances such as prohibited pesticides, antibiotics, and GMOs.
Any certified organic operation found to use prohibited substances or GMOs may face enforcement actions, including loss of certification and financial penalties. However, unlike many pesticides, there aren’t specific tolerance levels in the USDA organic regulations for GMOs. As such, National Organic Program policy states that trace amounts of GMOs don’t automatically mean the farm is in violation of the USDA organic regulations. In these cases, the certifying agent will investigate how the inadvertent presence occurred and recommend how it can be better prevented in the future. For example, they may require a larger buffer zone or more thorough cleaning of a shared grain mill.
USDA supports all methods of agriculture production, including organic, conventional, and biotechnology. To help these different methods coexist better, USDA has convened an Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21 st Century Agriculture (“AC21”). Organic stakeholders are well-represented on AC21. Recent recommendations from the Advisory Committee are currently being implemented (PDF, 62.4 KB) by USDA agencies.
Consumers purchase organic products expecting that they maintain their organic integrity from farm to market, and USDA is committed to meeting these expectations. No matter where it was grown, if a product has the USDA Organic label on it, it wasn’t produced with GMOs.
Respondents to the Suffolk University Political Research Center poll were asked the following: ⎥]
Supporters were required to obtain at least 86,105 valid signatures by August 4, 2014, in order to place the measure on the ballot. Colorado Right to Know reported in mid-July that they had collected about 90,000 signatures. ⎦] Supporters submitted over 167,995 signatures on August 4. ⎧] On August 20, 2014, the secretary of state confirmed enough valid signatures were certified, allowing the measure to go before voters. ⎨]
GMO Foods Will Soon Be Mislabeled As Biofortified
Editor’s Note: This article is intended for information purposes only. Because state and municipal laws vary greatly, as do the circumstances of individual cases, readers are advised to contact an attorney for specific legal advice. © Scott C. Tips 2019
If you have ever been to Berlin, Germany in the late Fall, you know how miserably wet, cold, and windy it can be. The only real refuge from those elements is to be found indoors. But even then there can be events that drive you right back outdoors and into the elements. Such was the case with the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU), which was holding its 40th session during the week of November 26-30, 2018, in that city.
As most of you already know, the Codex Alimentarius Commission and its various committees spread throughout the World establish food standards and guidelines after an eight-step process of consideration and debate that are then usually adopted by the Codex member states. The Codex Nutrition Committee is just one of the many committees that develop these food standards and guidelines. It is also one of the
committees with the most controversial issues.
Biofortification is a method of increasing certain vitamin and mineral content of basic food crops by the time-honored, conventional way of cross-breeding, and not through genetic engineering. Harvest Plus, the company behind biofortification, will for example increase the vitamin or iron content of sweet potatoes so that malnourished populations in developing nations will receive better nutrition. This is a very admirable goal, although I have argued at these meetings that perhaps it’s an unnecessary one if farmers would simply employ the proper farming techniques to prevent soil depletion and along with it the vitamin and mineral content of the foods grown in that soil.
For the last several years, the Codex Nutrition Committee has been crafting a definition for Biofortification. That definition would then be used uniformly around the World to apply to those foods conventionally fortified with higher levels of nutrients and everyone would be on the same page whenever the term “biofortified” was used. Indeed, the National Health Federation (NHF), a health-freedom organization accredited by Codex to participate in its meetings and the one whose delegation I led there, was an early supporter at Codex of this definition.
We have already gone through the sordid history, in detail, of how the draft definition of Biofortification had been infused with the disease of GMOs.1 I won’t repeat that history here. Just know that, now, the term Biofortification will have huge ramifications for the entire World. If the pro-GMO forces can succeed in continuing to hide their genetic-engineered foods within the definition of Biofortification and in using its appealing, natural-sounding name to sell their GMO foods, then consumers will be deceived on a worldwide scale.
The term “Biofortification,” at least within European countries, risks consumer confusion as to whether they are purchasing organic products or something else entirely. If Codex were to allow “any method of production” and “any source” to be part of the Biofortification definition, then Codex would be promoting marketing deception of the worst sort. Most consumers want GM foods labelled. In fact, consumer polls across the World have shown this to be true. In the United States alone, some 90% of consumers want such labeling and yet, here, the current, proposed definition will disguise GM foods under the term Biofortification. That is dishonest, disgraceful, and makes a mockery of Codex and its pretensions to credibility and transparency.
With the past and present Chairwomen’s help, the pro-GMO forces have so far been successful in manipulating the biofortification definition. And we are still living in the crater of that explosion that converted something good into something deliberately deceptive.
“The term ‘Biofortification,’ at least within European countries, risks consumer confusion as to whether they are purchasing organic products or something else entirely.”Scott C. Tips
New Leader, Same Story
So, as the Nutrition Committee was to edit once again the definition of Biofortification at this meeting, it was led by a new Chairwoman, Dr. Anja Brönstrup, a Policy Officer at the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL). Replacing Dr. Pia Noble, who had chaired last year’s meeting, Dr. Brönstrup had been the former head of the German Codex delegation. So, with such experience, we all had high hopes that she would be a more just and equitable chairwoman than the previous one, who had pretty much conducted her Codex meetings as if they were her own private fiefdom and without even a whiff of regard for whether she was following the Codex Procedural Manual.
She was aided greatly in her dictatorial approach by those country delegates who very desperately wanted to be sure that the “Biofortification” definition could serve as cover for GMO foods so that consumers could be tricked into eating them in blissful ignorance. Australia and New Zealand of course, as nearly always, led the pro-GMO pack, egged on by their corporate masters. Brazil, Nigeria, Costa Rica, Uganda, Ghana, Thailand, the Philippines, China, and the United States supported marketing deception as well.
On the other hand, doughty Nepal opposed the definition, calling it, among other things, exactly what it is: marketing deception. Revealing her own biases, the Chairwoman then quickly scrambled to do damage control, dismissing Nepal’s strong comments by claiming that a footnote allowing countries to include GMOs or not would address Nepal’s concerns. That made as much sense as claiming that because only some consumers would be deceived, we could still mislabel foods.
The European Union, Norway, Switzerland, Chile, Argentina, and India all opposed the GMO-inclusive definition, as did Russia, which sensibly stated its main concern was that if each member state could decide whether to include GMO foods within the definition, then this lack of a harmonized approach would lead to market confusion. Unfortunately, the very vocal Bangladesh delegate Dr. S.K. Roy had already left the meeting for the day or else he would have lambasted the definition as well. All in all, there was significant opposition to the proposed definition.
Yet, Dr. Brönstrup ran the meeting with cool but soulless German efficiency, which in her case meant dispensing with, or else dismissing, the airing of any viewpoints that might in any possible way slow down her sprint to the finish line for each agenda item. With her allotting only 40 minutes for the delegates to discuss the Biofortification definition, this also meant that she did not call upon any of the INGOs that had signaled her that they wanted to speak. Only the sponsoring INGO, the International Food Policy Research Institute, which strangely enough opened the discussion on this topic, was able to speak out on the definition, and at length. Fortunately, NHF had submitted written comments stating its position against the proposed definition.2
“I am referring this definition back to the Codex Committee on Food Labelling,” the Chairwoman suddenly proclaimed at the end of the day, without giving NHF and other consumer organizations any chance to speak. With this peremptory proclamation that the GMO-inclusive definition would be sent to CCFL for its review and approval, I was furious (as were evidently the other ignored INGOs). But I was the only one to storm to the front table and condemn the Chairwoman face-to-face for having not only ignored NHF but the Codex Procedural Manual as well. It was not a pretty exchange. But I did make my point.
Delegates met in Berlin to debate the definition of Biofortification at the 40th
Session of the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses.
On to Ottawa!
So, the battleground for this definition shifts to Ottawa, Canada, where during the second full week of May 2019, the CCFL delegates will fight this renewed battle. Fortunately, the Final Report of the Nutrition Committee meeting, upon which the CCFL will necessarily rely, will not have the misleading impression that there was “broad support” for the GMO-inclusive definition.
Recall that the last day of every Codex meeting is reserved for the “reading” of the draft Report, which is invariably sterile, terse, and lacking in detail but constitutes the official minutes of what happened at that meeting. The Report’s sparse wording is therefore magnified in importance with almost every syllable fought over by delegates. Sadly enough, it often takes a full day to wade through the wording so that a Final Report can be generated.
This time, among other things, the Report had misleadingly mentioned that there was “broad support” for the Biofortification definition despite the fact that more countries had actually spoken out in opposition to the definition than had supported it! The European Union had doggedly but unsuccessfully attempted to remove that wording from the Report as the Chairwoman reinserted it over the EU’s objections. Finally, I was allowed to speak and pointed out to the Committee that there were 23 countries opposed to the definition (the EU counted for 17 countries at this meeting) and that it would therefore be absolutely dishonest and misleading to characterize the support as “broad” in the face of such opposition. After I spoke, the misleading phrase was stricken. The Final Report will now accurately reflect to the other Committee (CCFL) that there was great division among the delegates and not “broad support.” Wording is more important than it might seem.
The Nutrition Committee of course considered many other issues than just the Biofortification definition, including Follow-up Formula for older infants, Trans-Fatty-Acid-free claims, Nutrient Reference Values (NRVs) for older infants and young children, an NRV for EPA and DHA long-chain fatty acids, and a proposed harmonized Guideline for probiotic use in foods and dietary supplements. These, too, were all important topics and I spoke out on most of these issues as well.
The week-long debates over all of these issues revealed the ready biases and heavy-handed nature of the new Codex Chairwoman, which hopefully the more-seasoned and even-handed Codex Secretariat can somehow eliminate. We shall all see whether the Secretariat is successful before the next Nutrition Committee meeting later this year during the Thanksgiving week in Düsseldorf, Germany. Until then, auf wiedersehen!
Note: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher and editors of WholeFoods Magazine.
Breaking Down Nutritional Labeling
Neither the U.S. nor Canada label GMO ingredients. In the U.S., Connecticut is the first state to pass a GMO labeling law, but there are in no uncertain terms, serious caveats. Four northeastern states need to pass labeling laws and one of them must border Connecticut for the law to take effect. The populations of the states must combine to at least 20 million people. Maine is the second state to pass a labeling law but the bill has the same caveats as Connecticut.
Currently, the only way to ensure that foods in both the U.S. and Canada are GMO-free is to buy certified organic products. According to the USDA, organic products are not allowed to contain GMOs-from the seeds, to the animal feed, to the end product.
Another way to avoid GMOs is to look for products certified with the NON GMO Project label. The NON GMO Project Verification program tests products for GMO content at points along the production chain considered to be high-risk for GMO contact. However it is important to note that this verification program is in line with the EU's stance on GMO labeling and allows for a product to be Non-GMO Verified if it contains 0.9% or less GMOs. I recently heard of another GMO verification label called GMO Guard. Feel free to check them out.
Canada was the first country to mandate the disclosure of trans-fats on the Nutrition Facts Panel of packaged foods. Since December 2005, Canadian consumers could decide for themselves if they wanted to purchase products containing trans fats (this includes trans-fats from animals sources as well). By 2006, U.S. consumers could do the same, however it didn’t become mandatory for companies to disclose trans fats on the Nutrition Facts Panel until January 1 st , 2008.
Unfortunately, even though we do our best to avoid trans fats by reading the Nutrition Facts Panel, we still manage to ingest them-but how?
A labeling loophole in the U.S. and less so in Canada allows companies to claim that their foods are trans-fat free when they’re not. In the U.S., food manufacturers are allowed to claim a product is trans-fat free if there is less than 0.5 grams per serving. Yes, I said per serving! As you can imagine, this adds up, as I demonstrate in my trans-fat video below.
In Canada, in order for a product to claim it’s trans-fat free, it must have no more than 0.2 grams of trans-fats per serving. Canada does a better job with trans-fat labeling, but ideally you want to avoid all trans-fats because even the smallest amounts per serving can add up to much more than you bargained for.
Many packaged goods companies are replacing trans fats with palm oil, and/or canola oil, which themselves, respectively, pose a potential environmental issue and is GMO.
In order to ensure packaged foods are trans-fat free, avoid the following specific ingredients:
• Partially hydrogenated oils
• Hydrogenated oils
• Mono and di-glycerides
We recently revised our Scary Seven list of ingredients to include mono and di-glycerides because they are fats that undergo partial hydrogenation, a process that produces trans fats. Because mono and di-glycerides are not “triglycerides” (The FDA only requires labeling trans fats if they are from triglycerides), food manufacturers can include them in their food products, but they don’t have to be labeled in the Nutrition Facts Panel as “trans-fats.” In addition, mono and di-glycerides, although they provide nine calories per gram, don’t have to be included in the Total Fat or Calories on a Nutrition Facts Panel.
In the U.S., all food and drink labels must list the type of artificial colors they contain. To denote food-coloring agents, colors are assigned FD&C (Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic) numbers, which are regulated by the FDA. This is important because individual food colorings can cause very different symptoms.
Artificial food coloring has a host of potential side effects including allergies, sinus congestion, hyperactivity, and worsened symptoms of ADD and ADHD. In our house, I can tell within 10 minutes if any of my kids ingest artificial colors because artificial food coloring makes my kids go crazy.
Here is a list of seven artificial food colors that the FDA approved for general use in food:
FD&C Blue No. 1: Brilliant Blue (blue shade), is inadequately tested and there has been suggestions of a small cancer risk.
FD&C Blue No. 2: Indigotine (dark blue shade).
FD&C Green No.3: Fast Green (bluish-green shade).
FD&C Red No.3: Erythrosine. High doses have been shown to cause cancer in lab animals.
FD&C Red No.40: Allura Red (red shade). Made mostly from petroleum, this dye can cause allergy-like reactions and has been linked to hyperactivity in children. It is also a potential carcinogen.
FD&C Yellow No.5: Tartrazine (yellow shade). Reactions can include rashes, skin allergies, asthma, or a runny nose. It is also linked to hyperactivity in children.
FD&C Yellow No.6: Sunset Yellow (orange shade). Linked to allergies, nasal congestion, nausea and hyperactivity in children.
Below is a package of M&Ms. You can see from its ingredients below how artificial colors are listed on a product found on the shelf of a U.S. store:
In Canada, food manufacturers are not required to list the type of food coloring used in their products. On a food label, you’ll see them simply listed as “colour”. Because each type of food coloring isn’t listed, it is best to avoid any product containing the word “colour” on a food label. Unfortunately “colour” is very easy to miss, especially when there is a long list of ingredients, so it is important to be extra diligent if you have small children and you are trying to eliminate artificial colors from their diets.
Here is an example of the SAME product shown above, Milk Chocolate M&Ms, but with Canadian ingredients:
So as you can see, if you live in Canada and never saw the U.S. M&M ingredient label, you wouldn't know it contained 10 different types of artificial colors in this one little package!
Keep that in mind next time you reach for an M&M.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
High-fructose corn syrup is at the top of our Scary Seven ingredient list. And with good reason as it can lead to obesity, insulin resistance, increased belly fat, and heart disease. High-fructose corn syrup can be found in everything from soda to peanut butter, juice, ketchup, and everything in between.
In the U.S. you will see it written on a food label as high-fructose corn syrup.
In Canada, although it’s well labeled, you will see it written on a food label as “glucose-fructose.”
So while these two countries are neighbors and common allies in so many ways, with regards to food labeling, they don’t always agree on how to list them for the end consumer.