Tag Archives: genetically modified organisms

Next-Generation Sequencing Targets GMOs

By Maria Fontanazza
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As the movement among consumers for more information about the products they’re purchasing and consuming continues to grow, the food industry will experience persistent pressure from both advocacy groups and the government on disclosure of product safety information and ingredients. Top of mind as of late has been the debate over GMOs. “Given all of the attention on GMOs on the legislative side, there is huge demand from consumers to have visibility and transparency into whether products have been genetically modified or not,” says Mahni Ghorashi, co-founder of Clear Labs.

Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs
Mahni Ghorashi, co-founder of Clear Labs

Today Clear Labs announced the availability of its comprehensive next-generation sequencing (NGS)-based GMO test. The release comes at an opportune time, as the GMO labeling bill, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week, heads to the desk of President Obama.

Clear Labs touts the technology as the first scalable, accurate and affordable GMO test. NGS enables the ability to simultaneously screen for multiple genes at one time, which could companies save time and money. “The advantage and novelty of this new test or assay is the ability to screen for all possible GMO genes in a single universal test, which is a huge change from the way GMO testing is conducted today,” says Ghorashi.

The PCR test method is currently the industry standard for GMO screening, according to the Non-GMO Project. “PCR tests narrowly target an individual gene, and they’re extremely costly—between $150–$275 per gene, per sample,” says Ghorashi. “Next-generation sequencing is leaps and bounds above PCR testing.” Although he won’t specify the cost of the Clear Labs assay (the company uses a tiered pricing structure based on sample volume), Ghorashi says it’s a fraction of the cost of traditional PCR tests.

The new assay screens for 85% of approved GMOs worldwide and targets four major genes used in manufacturing GMOs (detection based on methods of trait introduction and selection, and detection based on common plant traits), allowing companies to determine the presence and amount of GMOs within products or ingredient samples. “We see this test as a definitive scientific validation,” says Ghorashi. The company’s tests integrate software analytics to enable customers to verify GMO-free claims, screen suppliers, and rank suppliers based on risk.

Clear Labs, GMO, testing
Screenshot of the Clear Labs GMO test, which is based on next-generation sequencing technology.

Clear Labs isn’t targeting food manufacturers of a specific size or sector within the food industry but anticipates that a growing number of leading brands will be investing in GMO testing technology. “We expect to see adoption across the board in terms of company size, related more to what their stance is on food transparency and making that information readily available to their end consumers,” says Ghorashi.

Senate Deal Requires Nationwide GMO Labeling

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry has come to an agreement on the first-of-its-kind nationwide mandatory labeling of food products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  Although the deal requires labeling on far more products than those required under the Vermont GMO labeling law (which goes into effect July 1), the way in which disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients is revealed on food products is not as straightforward as it seems.  Under the bill, disclosure methods of GMOs on labeling includes on the actual packaging; an electronic/digital link that a consumer can scan with a smartphone to retrieve more information online; or a phone number in which a consumer can call to get more information. Thus, companies are not required to include all of the information on the product label.

The Center for Food Safety estimates that 75% of processed foods contain genetically engineered ingredients.The Senate Agriculture Committee praises the bill as a “win for consumers”, but there are industry folks who disagree. “While we are pleased this proposal will finally create a national, mandatory GMO disclosure system, protects organic labels, and will cover more food than Vermont’s groundbreaking GMO labeling law, we are disappointed that the proposal will require many consumers to rely on smart-phones to learn basic information about their food.,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Stonyfield Farm and advocacy group Just Label It in a release.

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard is available on the Senate Agriculture Committee’s website.

Does Your Company Really Understand GMO Labeling?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Consumers want to know what’s in their food, from artificial sweeteners and high-fructose corn syrup to dyes and pesticides. The latest hot-button issue surrounds foods made from genetically modified organisms (GMO) and the demand for companies to indicate on labeling whether a product contains GMOs.

In a recent Q&A with Food Safety Tech, James Cook, Food Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Manager at SGS, briefly discusses the challenges and misconceptions surrounding GMOs and labeling.

Food Safety Tech: What are the biggest challenges food companies face in communicating that their products are GMO-free?

James Cook: The biggest challenge for a company is to determine what words or phrases can be used concerning the regulations and/or laws of country that the product will be received into. Companies want to use GMO free, a terminology recognized by consumers, which is actually prohibited in certain locations such as the European Union (EU), and discouraged by the FDA.

FST: How has public (consumer) awareness of this issue complicated matters?

Cook: There is a diverse difference in dealing with the consumers in the EU that have a clear knowledge and unfortunately outrage to GMOs, and the consumers from the United States, where some have no idea what GMOs are.

FST: Are there misconceptions among consumers that present additional challenges to food companies?

Cook: The biggest misconceptions are: Everything created by humankind is evil, food crops have never changed, and the government and the industry are lying. Another misconception is that in the future, we will have enough food to feed the world population, without making significant changes in the way we produce food.   

FST: What are the most critical developments regarding state and federal labeling laws that we need to know about?

Cook: At this time, the Vermont law is the only breakthrough for the requirement [of] GMO labeling in the United States. If some non-government organization obtains passage of their bill through U.S Congress then this law will not come into effect. If this law becomes effective, we will have many states issuing and passing a similar law, as their consumers will want to know why this is required in Vermont but not in their states.

On April 16 Cook will be offering more insight on the topic during a GMO Labeling webinar. Register for the webinar now.

FST: Where do you see the GMO issue headed over the next year or so?

Cook: We will have some sort of GMO labeling law in the United States. Whether this law only affects one state or all of the U.S. is still unknown. Even if this is not solved, more locations in the United States will continue to ban the growing of GMO crops. Eventually these bans will make it into the courts, because you are dictating to a farmer what crops they can grow and sell.  

FST: What key questions will you address during the GMO Labeling webinar?

Cook: What does my company need to do in order to verify to a Non-GMO program?
Does one have to review the entire supply chain in order to prove the product is GMO free?
Why isn’t GMO product just labeled as such in the USA?
Why the vast difference of GMO policies between EU and USA?

 

Related Content: Expanding GMO Labeling Requirements in the U.S.


GM Apples and Potatoes are ‘Safe’: FDA

Arctic Apples have ‘silenced’ genes that prevent them from turning brown when bruised, while genetic modification of Innate potatoes reduces the activity of genes that cause tubers to turn brown.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has completed its evaluation for two varieties of apples genetically engineered by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Inc., and for six varieties of potatoes genetically engineered by J. R. Simplot Company and concluded that these foods are “as safe and nutritious as their conventional counterparts.”

Okanagan’s Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties of apples, known collectively by the trade name “Arctic Apples,” are genetically engineered to resist browning associated with cuts and bruises by reducing levels of enzymes that can cause browning.

Simplot’s varieties of Ranger Russet, Russet Burbank and Atlantic potatoes are collectively known by the trade name “Innate” and are genetically engineered to reduce the formation of black spot bruises by lowering the levels of certain enzymes in the potatoes. In addition, they are engineered to produce less acrylamide by lowering the levels of an amino acid called asparagine and by lowering the levels of reducing-sugars. Acrylamide is a chemical that can form in some foods during high-temperature cooking, such as frying, and has been found to be carcinogenic in rodents.

Foods derived from genetically engineered plants must meet the same legal standards, including safety standards, as foods derived from traditional plant breeding methods. Though producers of genetically engineered foods are not compelled to submit their products for FDA approval, both Okanagan, of British Columbia, Canada, and Simplot, of Boise, Idaho, submitted to FDA a summary of their safety and nutritional assessments.

“The consultation process includes a review of information provided by a company about the nature of the molecular changes and the nutritional composition of the food compared to traditionally bred varieties,” said Dennis Keefe, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety. “This case-by-case safety evaluation ensures that food safety issues are resolved prior to commercial distribution.”

The changes are expected to make the produce healthier, more palatable and easier to transport and sell without spoilage, and hence result in less food waste. But the approval is expected to spark controversy among critics who argue that genetically modified foods will introduce potentially dangerous unknowns into the American food supply. Okanagan and Simplot may label their products as GMO, something that many consumer groups have advocated for.

Source: FDA.gov

Expanding GMO Labeling Requirements in the U.S.

By James Cook
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In November 2014, the people of Oregon and Colorado voted for mandatory labeling of foods produced from genetically modified organisms (GMO). These initiatives from Maine, Connecticut, Vermont, and subsequently Oregon and Colorado speak of the public’s desire to know what they are eating, a mistrust of the industry, and a lack of action from the Federal government.

Currently in the U.S.. there is no Federal law that requires the labeling of GMO derived products, providing the product is not significantly different to the non-GMO product, or different in use, nutrition, or includes an unexpected allergen. However, FDA has produced voluntary labeling guidance on GMO and non-GMO. While many companies have option to label their products as non-GMO, there hasn’t been the same desire by the industry to label their products as GMO.

Unwanted events have caused the public to believe that the industry cannot be trusted and that the government is not doing everything it can to protect the public. One case involved a strain of GMO corn (Starlink) that was only approved for animal feed and fuel, because it cause a reaction in people. Unfortunately, this strain of corn did end up in the human food supply chain, causing the U.S. price of corn to plummet on the world market, and dozens of products to be recalled.

Another case involved the development of GMO wheat. T his was a product that foreign markets had no desire for. There, after field trials from 2000 to 2003, the company that created the GMO wheat dropped the project despite FDA completing its food safety consultation on it in 2004.

In 2013, this strain of GMO wheat was found growing in a field in Oregon. After extensive review, the USDA completed an investigation and published its findings on September 26, 2014, concluding that it was the same GMO variety created by the aforementioned company. The report added that the wheat had not come from local field trials, and that they were “unable to determine exactly how the GMO wheat was found growing in Montana. That investigation is still ongoing.

Oregon mandatory labeling

One of the counties of Oregon, Jackson County, has banned GMO crops. Oregon was one of the states involved in the unwanted GMO wheat event, and has voted no to changing its existing law to require the labeling of raw and packaged foods produced entirely, or partially by genetic engineering. This law would have required retailers to properly label raw product as “genetically engineered.”

Manufacturers of pre-packaged foods would have to place labels clearly and conspicuously stating “produced with genetic engineering” or “partially produced with genetic engineering” on the front or back of the package. These phrases did not have to be part of the product name, nor did the manufacturer have to identify which ingredient or ingredients are derived from genetic engineering. No company would have been subject to injunction or fines, if the pre-packaged foods have less than 0.9 percent genetic engineered materials by the total weight of the package or were unknowingly, or unintentionally, contaminated with genetically engineered material. For pre-packaged products, retails would have been only responsible for their own labeled products. This would not apply to animal feed or food served in restaurants.

Colorado Right to Know Act

A law proposed in Colorado but also not passed, dealt with labeling requirements for products derived for genetic modification. Had it been passed, it would have been effective from July 1, 2016. Its main aim was that packaged and raw agriculture products derived from GM would have to have been labelled as “produced with genetic engineering.” The exemptions from the labeling requirements were:

  • Animal food or drink,
  • Chewing gum,
  • Alcoholic beverages,
  • Food containing one or more processing aids,
  • Enzymes produced or derived from genetic engineering,
  • Food in restaurants and food produced for immediate consumption not packaged for resale,
  • Food for animals not derived from genetic engineering but fed feed or injected with a drug derived from genetic engineering, and
  • Medically prescribed food. 

Food would not have been considered misbranded if it had been produced by someone unaware that the seed or food was derived from genetic engineering, or that it was either unknowingly or unintentionally co-mingled with genetically engineering seed or food.

The Grocery Manufacturers’ Association (GMA), a major U.S. industry association that is against the individual state laws regarding GMO labeling, supports the HR 4432 Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act introduced by the House of Representatives’ Mike Pompeo and G. K. Butterfield. This proposed law would not require products with GMO ingredients to be labelled as such, unless there are safety issues or substantial differences between them and the non-GMO ingredient, but it will set specific requirements for GMO free claims and require FDA to develop requirements for Natural claims. While this law was introduced into Congress in April 2014, it hasn’t progressed to the point that anyone believes that it will signed into law anytime soon. Vermont is still the only state to have passed an unencumbered GMO law. Currently, laws in Maine and Connecticut with there requirements still not met, will not be enacted, at least, at this time. The state of Vermont is being sued with the GMO labeling debate in the U.S. still continuing even though the European Union has required labeling of GMOs since 1997. To date, there are more than 60 countries, as well as the EU, requiring labeling of GMOs.

This article originally appeared in SGS Hot Source Food Newsletter 6. For further information, please visit www.FoodSafety.SGS.com.

Want to learn more about GMO Labeling? Register for this complimentary webinar, on April 16, 2015, which will discuss

  • Next steps for state and federal labeling laws,
  • An update on the status of the non-GMO supply chain and certification programs,
  • Where organic fits in the non-GMO discussion, and
  • What are the marketplace challenges of going non-GMO?

Mitigate Food Contamination Risk

Whether mycotoxins or microbiological values, heavy metals or pesticides – independent sampling and testing provide an objective and comprehensive overview of what food products contain and help comply with food safety regulations.

Nuts containing mould, frozen strawberries contaminated with hepatitis pathogens, and pesticide-laden vegetables – more than 3,000 products were objected by EU authorities in 2013. With increasing government, industry and consumer concerns about the hazards of food contaminants, and the risks they pose, food manufacturers, governments and non-governmental agencies, are implementing policies and processes to monitor and reduce contaminants.

Key food contaminants

Food contaminants cover a wide range of potential substances including:

  • Dioxins: Produced as unintentional by-products of industrial processes such as waste incineration, chemical manufacturing and paper bleaching, dioxins can be found in the air, in water and contaminated soil.
  • Allergens: Virtually all of the known food allergens are proteins that can subsist in large quantities and often survive food processing.
  • Genetically modified organisms (GMOs): Banned in a number of countries, controversy still exists with regard to the use of GMOs. Selling food and/or feed that is non-GMO in restricted markets places the burden of proof on the supply chain.
  • Heavy metals: Whilst heavy metals, such as lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg) and arsenic (As), can be found in nature, industrial and environmental pollutants have resulted in their increased presence in food and feed.
  • Hormones: Commonly used in animal husbandry to promote growth, hormone residues can be found in the food supply.
  • Melamine: Harmful to animal and human health, melamine is not a permitted food additive.
  • Mycotoxins: Produced by several strains of fungi found on food and feed products, mycotoxins are often invisible, tasteless, and chemically stable both at high temperatures and during long periods of storage.
  • Pesticide residues: Over-use of pesticides can lead to dangerous levels of hazardous chemicals entering the food chain with fresh fruit and vegetables being most susceptible to pesticide residues.
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): Used in many products, some PCBs are toxic and stable enough to resist breaking down even when released into the environment.
  • Radiation contamination: There are three ways that foodstuffs can become contaminated by radiation: surface, ground and water contamination.
  • Veterinary drug residues: Used in the treatment of animals, veterinary drugs can leave residues in animals subsequently sent into the food chain. The impact of contaminants varies. Depending on their toxicity and the level of contamination their effects can range from causing skin allergies, to more serious illnesses (including cancers and neurological impairments) and, in the most extreme cases, death.

To ensure that your food and feed products are fit for consumption, you need to test for specific contaminants throughout the value chain. For example, in concentrated levels, melamine, antibiotics and hormones can be harmful to animals and humans. Only thorough contaminant testing will determine if the above-mentioned impurities, among others, are present. After identification the relevant goods can be eliminated from the production and distribution chain.

Maximum levels and regulations

In order to protect consumers, maximum levels permitted in food products have been set by food safety legislation in many countries. Disappointingly, and despite efforts in some product areas, maximum levels are rarely harmonized across national borders. This inconsistency places responsibility for compliance firmly with the food supply chain. A comprehensive testing program can verify that your products meet maximum levels and the safety standards they represent.

In the European Union (EU), it is the food business operator who carries primary responsibility for food safety and the General Food Law Regulation (EC) 178/20022 is the primary EC legislation on general food safety. More specific directives and regulations compliment this, for example, EU regulations concerning non-GMO/GMO products, include Directive 2001/18/EC and regulations 1829/2003 and 1830/2003.

The U.S. Food and Drugs Administration has overseen the development and signing into law of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Within the U.S., state regulators retain the right to apply additional regulations and laws. As result, rules regarding maximum levels, for example, vary from state to state.

In China, the Food Safety Law (FSL) was passed into law by the Chinese government in 2009. It introduced enhanced provision for monitoring and supervision, improved safety standards, recalls for substandard products and dealing with compliance failures.

Brazil’s food safety agency, Anvisa, coordinates, supervises and controls activities to assure health surveillance over food, beverages, water, ingredients, packages, contamination limits, and veterinary residues for import. No specific restrictions have been established yet for export.

Monitoring

Monitoring programs are frequently used to identify any contamination issues. From seeds, through the growing process and harvest, transportation, collection, storing and processing to the market channel, independent monitoring delivers credible and independently collected data on both quality and contaminants.

With so many policies and standards, both nationally and internationally, anyone involved in the food industry needs to be sure of accurate and up-to date information on food contaminant regulations. Whether mycotoxins or microbiological values, heavy metals or pesticides – independent sampling and testing provide an objective and comprehensive overview of what grain and food products contain.

For more information, please visit: www.SGS.com/foodsafety.