Zintro experts discuss GMO labeling

California is trying to enact a GMO labeling law that could have national consequences should it pass. But, the EU has had regulations in place for years. We asked our Zintro experts to outline the pros and cons of labeling GMO ingredients.

Peter De Hoff, a researcher, says that the devil is truly in the details in how you label GMO food products. “At issue is the definition of what constitutes a GMO food and at what point the distinction looses its meaning. While genetic modifications all involve introducing DNA into a host species, the actual effective molecule can be varied. For instance, in the GMO papaya and the defunct flavr savr tomato, the effective molecule was RNA. For GMO potato, corn, soybean, or rapeseed, those molecules are often proteins,” says De Hoff. “Should there be a class distinction between GMOs that make novel proteins and GMOs whose effects are directly mediated by the RNA? What about the source of the gene? The GMO papaya uses a viral gene to gain resistance to a virus that would have otherwise wiped out the papaya industry. On the other hand, the flavr savr tomato used a modified version of one of its own genes.”

De Hoff points out that most food in the developed world is extensively processed and comes from many sources. He wonders how far down the chain can one go and still justify calling a food product GMO. “While there are no GMO livestock, livestock does certainly consume the lion’s share of GMO food. Some would argue that if an animal eats a GMO food, it too is GMO. But how much GMO food does a livestock animal have to eat to qualify as GMO?” he asks. There are many questions in this debate and subtleties to it too. “In the end, if the proponents of efforts to label GMO foods actually want to fully define what it takes for a food to be a GMO, and then effectively promulgate that definition to the general public, then labeling food as GMO can serve as a legitimate distinguishing characteristic from non-GMO foods in the marketplace.”

Rick Cavanaugh, a bakery science and formulation expert, says that GMO labeling requirements have made US food processing companies less competitive in the world market. “The majority of the laws around the world are setup as trade barriers. GMO testing is quite advanced, and it has the ability to test extremely low levels of contamination. Cross contamination is present throughout the world and each country has been setting limits of unintentionally added GMO,” he says.

Cavanaugh says that these limits are, for example: EU is <0.9%; Japan is <5%; S. Korea is <3%; Australia is <1%; and the Ukraine has a zero tolerance on the presence of GMO proteins being imported in food even though the same products made in the Ukraine contain the same level of GMO proteins.

“It is close to impossible to find a source of soy or corn that is truly GMO free (0 ppb) anywhere in the world due to cross contamination. This is why most countries have limits. Many products are so highly processed that all of the GMO protein is processed out and there is no remaining traces of the novel protein,” Cavanaugh explains. “Products such as soy oil, emulsifiers made with soy oil, corn syrups and other highly processed products must be labeled as GMO even though there is no trace of the protein. Many products that are labeled non-GMO will contain more GMO proteins than the highly processed product made with GMO ingredients. Feeding the world’s hungry should be a high priority activity. Increasing GMO regulations to make it more difficult for US food processors should not be a priority.”

By Maureen Aylward

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