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14 of September, 2015 In: food safety, Labeling, GMO 0

What Does GMO Mean in the QA World? Part 1 of 3: Labeling and Certification

written by:Marko Gospojevic

I absolutely love this subject. First of all, I have a degree in Molecular Biology, and any time I get to talk about the subject of Genetics I reach the equivalent of nerd Nirvana. Second, it brings back memories of my childhood in Europe, where my grandma, of all people, did genetic experiments on her garden flowers.

My grandmother wasn’t a Scientist, Molecular Biologist, or any other type of Evil-James-Bond-Character. She was an incredibly sweet old lady who lived all of her life in Europe, and meticulously nurtured her gardens, rich with fresh seasonal fruit, vegetables, and flowers. One thing that she impressed into my memory was when she successfully crossbred a River Birch tree with red roses. Just imagine a garden of wild roses, philodendrons, vividly colored lilies, and in the middle of all of that, a twenty foot tree just covered with blooming red roses. Awesome!

My sweet old granny was a bad ass who knew her Mendelian Genetics. One thing that she might not have known at the time, was that she was creating GMOs.

Fast-forward about thirty years, and her grandson (i.e. Me) is now dealing with GMO’s on a daily basis as a QA professional in America, and here is why:

Social Media Addicts

If the food industry has learned anything in the last 15 years, it is that social media can pack one hell of a punch. Don’t believe me? Just ask the thousand families who lost their source of income in the “Pink Slime” social media disaster of 2012. Concerned Mom’s of America, along with certain media reporters and celebrities, helped remove this product from store shelves in a matter of weeks. The same can be said about GMOs. Due to the incredibly fast—and often uninformed--exchange of information on social media, a product that is deemed acceptable today, could easily be on the “Most Wanted” poster tomorrow. Although California’s 2012 Proposition 37 vote failed to pass, Non-GMO advocates along with celebrities and alarmist organizations have been able to raise enough money and political backing to give large food manufacturers of the world a serious scare when it came to mandating GMO labeling.

To Label or Not To Label, That is the Question

As of this writing, placing a disclaimer on your product regarding its GMO content status is not mandated by the FDA. This means that as a manufacturer you can voluntarily disclose this bit of information on your product label. Although legislative movement on labeling GMOs is still moving on a state level, the topic of labeling GMOs is a hot one for everyone. Why? Simple answer – Money. Yes, money As we saw in California’s Proposition 37 vote in 2012, the top concern of the bill’s opponents was regarding the overall trickledown effect of extra food cost. By all means, if you have the extra money to ensure compliance, please use it for public transparency. However, if history is evidence of things to come, the accountants will pass on the extra cost to the consumer. According to some calculations, this cost would result in an extra $400 million dollars per year for families to swallow (pun totally intended).

Certification of Non-GMO Products

Where should I start?

Answer this question for me first: Do you already manufacture USDA Organic certified products? If your answer is yes, you are already ahead of the curve. Due to the fact that Organic Certified products cannot intentionally use GMO ingredients, you and your QA team will have a much easier time in obtaining Non-GMO ingredients/products.

So what are my options as a food manufacturer? I have seen some big manufacturers display “Made with Non-GMO ingredients” on their PDP (Primary Display Panel) labels. This is a voluntary disclosure and means that your ingredient supplier provided you with an affidavit (on professional letterhead, not in an email) that indicates to the best of their knowledge they do not use GMOs or genetically engineer (GE) their ingredients.

What if I my customers require an official logo on the label? In this case you should probably start with the best name in Non-GMO business. They are called “Non-GMO Project .” A one-stop-shop of sorts, they have a list of currently Non-GMO certified producers, which makes your purchasing clerk’s life much easier. What makes this even better is that they are a certifying body. This agency will actually work with you throughout your certification process. They will guide you as to which ingredients are considered high risk and low risk, and upon successful completion of their onsite audit, voila, your product will be certified with a nice logo on the front label.

Considering that this is an ongoing debate between legislators, big food companies, and concerned households, these rules and regulations could easily change from year-to-year, or even month-to-month. To quote the talented Mr. Lenny Kravitz, “It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over”.

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