Friday, August 30, 2013


Explosive growth of organic food industry owes largely to the rising concerns of consumers regarding the safety of products main stream food industry. In spite of the fact that organic foods cost 50-100% more than commercial alternatives, people seem to be willing to patronize them with the firm belief that their kith and kin are protected. Why should the consumers be worried so much about food products from the organized processing industry? The reasons are not far to seek. Most importantly the agriculture is dependent largely on heavy use of chemical crop protectants, most of them considered toxic to human beings even in small concentrations found as residues on the harvested crops. More recently another dimension has been added to the safety concerns of the people by the large scale production of genetically modified foods and their wide spread marketing without the consumer ever knowing about this transgression of their right to know what they are eating. Unfortunately in countries like the US more than 80% of the foods on the shelves of most markets contain GMO ingredients with no indication about their presence on the front of the pack label!

How serious is the issue of safety of GMO foods now omnipotent in the US market and in a few other countries? It will be an understatement of one says that GMO foods do pose serious problems of safety as adequate data are still not generated to conclusively prove that they are absolutely safe. If so why is that the safety authorities in countries like the US are not clamping down on the industry, giving them a free rein in the market? The guess is that they are in collusion with the GMO lobby for considerations other than the welfare of their citizens! Imagine the clout of this lobby which pumped so much money for defeating a ballot initiative in California that would have mandated compulsory labeling of foods containing GMO ingredients, that too after 80% of the population there wanted compulsory labeling! Note that people are not asking for banning the GMO foods but just make the industry to declare that they are present in the products offered!

Now that increasing evidence is accumulating regarding the uncertain safety credentials of GMO foods, more and more people are demanding from the industry to give them GMO free products. It is a sad situation in the US where the current President promised to make the industry declare on the label presence of GMO ingredients but promptly reneged on his solemn assurances after the election. If to day the anti GMO lobby has some clout it is due to the relentless campaign by a few voluntary organizations around the world. It is comical to see that the governments do not insist on declaration of GMO ingredients while not allowing those making products without GMO to declare the same on the labels of their products! The relentless pressure by people's organizations is making more and more people aware of the unnatural nature of genetically fiddled foods. 

It is shocking that about 90 percent or more of four major crops — corn, soybeans, canola and sugar beets  in the US are grown from genetically engineered seeds. This poses another challenge to the user industry to source non-GMO counterparts to replace the GMO version in their product mix. Of course there is a limited production base for conventional varieties but a significant portion of the conventional varieties of those crops is exported while the organic food industry has cornered the rest. Besides, the livestock industry is reported to be increasing its demand for non-GMO crops to meet growing demand among consumers for eggs and meats sourced from animals that have never eaten genetically modified feeds. The magnitude of revulsion to GMO foods can be gauged by the recent massive protests in 436 cities in 52 countries rallying against the monopolist company that supplies GMO seeds all over the world! 

Another worrying factor is the impact of large scale shift of consumers from GMO foods to conventional ones on the price front. According to knowledgeable sources, the prices of non GMO version of Corn is commanding a premium price of almost 75-100% in the market and if the supply restraints become more acute the prices can further increase in the near future. Same applies to other crops also and the US is facing a massive dilemma in tackling this issue as it is difficult to grow conventional natural crops in fields which have been cultivating GMO crops. Recent finding of GMO wheat in a field in Midwest America was traced to a GMO wheat trial taken almost a decade ago by the GMO industry and is it not shocking that even after 10 years traces pf GMO crop remained raising enormous worries about the consequences of increased consumer resistance against GMO crops. Will the Americans be forced to eat GMO foods under such a situation even if labeling becomes mandatory as otherwise it will be starvation for them? 

Another dimension to this problem after the protests have gained a critical mass is who will vouchsafe the authenticity of non GMO crops. The policy makers and administrators do not seem to be capable of stemming this tide in favor of compulsory labeling. If so what logistical problem is going to arise once labeling is made mandatory? Most critical requirement will be to test foods for the presence of GMO ingredients and provide credible certification to those willing to avoid their use. Testing requires sophisticated facilities and experienced bio analysts both being in short supply. Probably the GMO lobby may be laughing all the way to their banks after putting the country in such a fix. It is time the US government addresses this concern and establish the much needed testing and certification facilities sooner than later.   

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