Tag Archives: GMO

Retail Food Safety Forum

All About Food Policy: Interview with Baylen Linnekin

By Chelsey Davis
No Comments

GMOs, FSMA and menu labeling are all hot topics right now in the world of food policy and regulation. To further discuss the latest updates,TraceGains’ Chelsey Davis sat down with Baylen J. Linnekin, Executive Director for Keep Food Legal, Adjunct Professor at George Mason School of Law, and Columnist at Reason, to explore his take on a few of these key issues.

GMOs, FSMA and menu labeling are all hot topics right now in the world of food policy and regulation. To further discuss the latest updates,TraceGains‘ Chelsey Davis sat down with Baylen J. Linnekin, Executive Director for Keep Food Legal, Adjunct Professor at George Mason School of Law, and Columnist at Reason, to explore his take on a few of these key issues.

Linnekin is a licensed attorney and is the founder and executive director of Keep Food Legal Foundation, a Washington, DC-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that promotes food freedom of choice—the right of every American to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of their own choosing. He serves as an adjunct professor at George Mason University Law School and an adjunct faculty member at American University, where his teaching focuses largely on contemporary food-policy issues. Along with faculty from Harvard Law School and UCLA Law School, Linnekin is one of six founding board members of the new Academy of Food Law & Policy. He is currently writing his first book, which focuses on the ways that government policies often thwart sustainable food practices, for Island Press. He is also serving as an expert witness in an ongoing First Amendment food-labeling lawsuit.

What are your thoughts on the final rules for menu and vending labeling that are set to be enforced by December 2015 (2016 for vending)? Do you think it will help fight obesity?

Linnekin: From both a theoretical and practical standpoint, mandatory menu- and vending-labeling is a lousy idea. Looking forward—from a theoretical perspective—even the chief architect of the country’s first menu-labeling law, former New York City health department head Thomas Farley, admits menu labeling “won’t stop the obesity epidemic[.]” Practically, we know Farley is right, as study after study has found that mandatory menu labeling doesn’t lead consumers to choose lower-calorie options, and may even cause them to choose options with more calories.

What is your take on “natural” labeling and advertising claims? Do you think things like this should be regulated, or better yet, more specific in regulation?

Linnekin: This is properly a matter for the courts. If someone believes they’ve been harmed by an “all natural” label—e.g., they were tricked into buying something by what they believe is a misleading label—then they should sue. The FDA should stay out of it. Instead, the FDA should permit any food label so long as it contains the required information—including an accurate list of ingredients—and doesn’t contain statements that are demonstrably false (fraudulent).

You talk about GMO labeling in a few of your recently published articles. If Congress were to pass a mandatory GMO-labeling law, what do you think would be the immediate ramifications to food manufacturers?

Linnekin: Mandatory GMO-labeling laws are bad for food manufacturers and consumers. Costs would rise for both thanks to new regulatory requirements and, for the former, threats of lawsuits. Thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be any stomach in Congress for passing a mandatory GMO-labeling law.

Can you elaborate on what you mean when you say things like, our “food freedom is under attack”?

Linnekin: I define food freedom as an individual’s right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of his or her own choosing. Federal, state, and local government officials—both elected and working in regulatory agencies—are threatening this individual right. Many cities restrict a person’s right to plant a garden in their own yard, or to share food with the homeless and less fortunate. States have banned foods and food ingredients—from foie gras to Four Loko to raw milk. The federal government subsidizes farmers who grow some crops (i.e., corn and soy) and bans farmers from growing others (e.g., hemp). And it’s cracking down on foods that contain salt, caffeine, trans fats, and other ingredients. The list goes on. If the government were to restrict our speech—what comes out of our mouths—in the same way it does what we put into our mouths, we wouldn’t hesitate to say that free speech is under attack. That’s why I say food freedom is under attack.

With so many food recalls that occurred during 2014 and in previous years, how would you suggest food manufacturers prevent these issues while also not requiring additional regulation?

Linnekin: The U.S. food supply is remarkably safe. That’s thanks in very large part to the nation’s farmers and food manufacturers. The threat of harming consumers and consumer confidence—not to mention the lawsuits and calls for increased regulations that arise when such harm occurs—should be incentive enough for food companies to seek to prevent these issues from arising. But not all food regulations—even newer ones—are bad. I support the FDA’s mandatory recall authority under FSMA for many reasons, including because I think it makes lots of sense given the FDA’s original mission to protect food safety.

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 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.

Rick Biros, President/Publisher, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC
Biros' Blog

Bill 2491 – NIMBY Pesticides and GMOs

By Rick Biros
No Comments
Rick Biros, President/Publisher, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC

Kauai is the 4th largest island of Hawaii.  It is lush and green with a 12-month growing season. Kauai is also where many of the outdoor scenes were filmed for Jurassic Park, the movie where a science experiment ran amok.

Syngenta is the inventor and primary patent holder of the pesticide Atrazine. Syngenta’s host country Switzerland as well as the rest of the European Union prohibits the use of Atrazine. The CDC website says one of the primary ways that Atrazine can affect your health is by altering the way that the reproductive system works. Studies of couples living on farms that use Atrazine for weed control found an increase in the risk of pre-term delivery. According to the CDC, Atrazine caused liver, kidney, and heart damage in animals; it is possible that Atrazine could cause these effects in humans, although this has not been examined.

In 2006 and 2008, dozens of children and teachers at Waimea Canyon Middle School on Kauai were sickened and sent to local hospitals. Syngenta denied that the adjacent fields of experimental GMO corn and the related pesticide spraying was the culprit. The Hawaii State Teachers Association filed a temporary restraining order against Syngenta to force them to stop spraying next to the school. Once Syngenta stopped spraying those fields and since then there have been no further incidents. Atrazine and other chemicals have been found in the drainage ditches leading from the fields into coastal waters and residents on the west side of Kauai reported massive sea urchin die offs in coastal areas. Obstetricians, pediatricians and other local physicians have expressed concerns about what they believe to be unusually high levels of normally rare birth defects and certain types of cancers. Parents report their children have higher than normal incidents of nose bleeds and respiratory problems. All this has been reported in his blog by Gary Hooser, a Kauai council member who co-introduced Bill 2491, late last year. 

According to Hooser, Bill 2491 contains three basic provisions:

  1. Pesticide and GMO disclosure;
  2. Buffer zones around schools, hospitals and homes; and 
  3. A county sponsored and paid for comprehensive study of health and environmental impact. 

The Kauai County Council passed into law Bill 2491 after they overrode a veto from Kauai’s mayor. Bill 2491 does not ban pesticides nor does it ban GMOs, it simply requires disclosure according to Hooser. The mayor of Kauai is not the only local to oppose Bill 2491. Opponents say the studies that the county will pay for (through higher taxes), are redundant to EPA, USDA and FDA activities regarding the use of both GMO plants and pesticides.

On January 10th, DuPont, Syngenta and Dow filed suit trying to overturn Bill 2491 as being invalid. In a joint statement that was published in the Wall Street Journal they said “It (the bill) arbitrarily targets our industry with burdensome and baseless restrictions on farming operations by attempting to regulate activities over which counties in Hawaii have no jurisdiction.”

I don’t think the bill “arbitrarily” targets the pesticide and GMO industry. I think it specifically targets the pesticide and GMO industry and that local governments should have the ability to regulate pesticides and agricultural activity. It’s their backyard, it’s their health, their commerce (or lack there of), it’s their lives and they are willing to finance it. Simply, it’s their decision!

Bill 2491 almost seems like a local zoning law, however, and a lot of anti-GMO consumer activist groups have jumped on the Bill 2491 bandwagon and it has become a battle ground for the GMO companies who will not yield any ground to additional regulations for fear that the local movement on GMO zoning will snowball on them. Perhaps this is why Bill 2491 is dubbed “The Pesticide Bill” by the local media, but The Huffington Post calls the same bill the “GMO Bill.” 

General Mills, Post and Kellogg’s have all announced non-GMO versions of their core brands of cereals. Why? Because there is a market for them! The organic market continues to gain market share, with food processors and retailers helping accelerate the growth. Kauai happens to have a fairly large organic farming community, which is at risk from cross contamination from experimental GMO plants that are being sprayed with pesticides to determine the amount of pesticides needed. This is a point that even Hooser failed to point out.

I am not opposed to all GMOs and feel they offer certain benefits (drought resistance for example) that should be utilized when appropriate. However, the use of GMOs for the sole purpose of selling more pesticides is not something I support. And if I felt threatened by them, I’d like to have the ability, with the consensus of my community, to prevent them from being used in or very near my backyard.

1. CDC’s website with Atrazine information, http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/PHS/PHS.asp?id=336&tid=59