Tag Archives: GMOs

Maria Fontanazza, Editor-in-Chief, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC
From the Editor’s Desk

Feeding the Fear and The Battle to Regain Consumer Trust

By Maria Fontanazza
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Maria Fontanazza, Editor-in-Chief, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC

When it comes to educating consumers, the process of building trust goes beyond providing research and scientific information. Consumers respond to having connections and shared values related to food safety, the treatment of animals, and nutrition. However, today’s crowd-sourcing environment has served to both enlighten and distribute information that isn’t always fully understood by consumers.

As food companies are facing increasing pressure for transparency, they’re grappling with more effective ways to communicate what’s in their products. “That’s a healthy part of the marketplace, and there’s nothing wrong with food companies responding to consumer demands,” says Jayson Lusk, Regents Professor and Willard Sparks Endowed Chair in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University. In many cases, when companies provide more information about certain ingredients, it puts them in a difficult position. “Often, many consumers are not in a position to evaluate or understand why an ingredient is used or evaluate the safety risks, so there are all kinds of biases that consumers have; [for example,] if it sounds like a chemical name, it must be deadly. There are all kinds of misinformation on the Internet about various food ingredients that consumers have easy access to.”

Just giving stats and scientific information isn’t always the most effective route. “People don’t tend to respond to just scientific information. That’s unfortunate,” says Lusk. “The research shows people are more persuaded by stories, by a better understanding of why farmers or food processors might be interested in using a particular ingredient.”

Issues surrounding artificial additives, antibiotics and GMOs are particularly contentious, and marketing and advertising play a big role in shaping public perception. Take, for example, gluten-free orange juice. Most natural juices (not juice drinks) are free of gluten, but labeling them as such opens the door to new markets (or maybe it just confuses people more). “One of the big challenges for a lot of food companies, especially big companies that have multiple brands appealing to different segments, is that on the one hand, they defend the use of certain ingredients [for example, genetically modified organisms],” says Lusk. “At the same time, they offer brands that make claims that say they don’t have those ingredients and make all efforts to make sure we aren’t selling you these things.”

This dichotomy can be perceived as a lack of integrity, because it undermines the message of trust that food companies want to convey to the market. Companies need to explain why they’re using certain ingredients in a product and the impact it has on safety and nutrition. And consumers need to understand that either the addition of or absence of certain ingredients can lead to higher prices. Many consumers are willing to pay a premium for products that are labeled as organic or non-GMO, but many consumers still want food to be affordable.

This year companies are being particularly aggressive in announcing their moves to remove additives or antibiotics, or provide GMO-free menus, but the question remains as to whether this will have a positive impact on the bottom line, as well as whether consumers really understand the implications. In April, Chipotle publicized that it was the first U.S. restaurant chain to use only non-GMO ingredients. However, if you read the fine print, you’ll learn that its tortillas still use additives, and the soft drinks that the chain sells may contain sweeteners from GMO corn. Panera stated its plans for removing artificial additives from its menus by the end of 2016. Kraft’s famous Macaroni & Cheese will no longer have that eerie glow, as the company is nixing artificial flavors and dyes, including Yellow No. 5 and 6. Walmart just voiced its new position on responsible use of antibiotics in farm animals, and so did President Obama—at least in Federal cafeterias.

And in an effort to put the kibosh on the “big is bad” mentality, Hormel has put down $775 million to pick up Applegate Farms, a producer of organic meats. Rest assured, as Applegate tells its irate consumers on its Facebook page, its products will “continue to work toward transparency in labeling” and its “standards and products won’t be changed”. Applegate is doing the right thing. It is engaging with consumers, whether or not it likes what they have to say, and it’s doing so in a non-defensive way.

Beyond this, companies need to really study their consumers, understand their patterns, and learn how to educate them in a meaningful way—beyond a simple label.

I try to avoid food with a lot of extra…crap. But sometimes I’m just too tired (or hungry) to pay attention to every detail on the label. And sometimes I eat that red velvet cupcake at a party and, after examining my florescent tongue in the bathroom mirror, I think, shoot—how much dye was in that??? And maybe I like the idea of slicing an apple that doesn’t turn brown. Then again…maybe I don’t.

Truth is, I’m just not sure yet.

Maria Fontanazza
Editor-in-Chief

Dr. David Acheson is the Founder and CEO of The Acheson Group
Beltway Beat

Panera Throws Down the Gauntlet by Removing Artificial Additives

By Dr. David Acheson
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Dr. David Acheson is the Founder and CEO of The Acheson Group

Earlier this month, Panera announced its intention to remove “artificial additives by publishing a list of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives that it has eliminated or intends to remove from its [menus] by the end of 2016.” The company’s position wasn’t a response to consumer demand but rather the latest step in its Food Policy of holding itself accountable.

Whether you think Panera’s move is good or unnecessary; whether or not your company plans to start removing additives (or GMOs), it’s important to understand that the food industry is truly driven by consumers. And consumers are all-to-often driven by consumer group and media hype, or by trends they don’t truly understand. It is just as important to understand that whether you are a foodservice provider, retailer, or anyone upstream in the supply chain, this movement impacts you.

Panera commented, “We are not scientists”. However, the company did consult with third-party scientists and experts to create a list of “common artificial additives” with a goal to “unengineer” its food menu and remove artificial additives “that have become prevalent across the industry’s supply chain.” Interestingly enough, Panera never directly states that these additives are bad—they’re just “artificial”. Panera did, however, allow others to say it for them in a series of quotes contained in the company’s press release.

According to the release, “The artificial additives on the No No List will be removed across the Company’s food menu, from bakery to soups to salads and sandwiches. The list also includes substances like high fructose corn syrup and artificial trans fats. There are more than 150 ingredients that will be impacted.”

Don’t believe all 150 ingredients are bad? Your product uses only “a little” high fructose corn syrup? You need to use an ingredient on EWG’s “dirty dozen” list (among the 150 to be discontinued)? You use antibiotics for your poultry? Too bad. If you want to supply Panera (or Chipotle or Whole Foods, etc.), you’ll be left with the option either following their limitations or not supplying them at all. Panera touts itself as the first national restaurant company to publicly share a comprehensive list of ingredients to be removed, but it’s not the first to begin banning ingredients. And with the vocal nature of the consumer groups and the media, it certainly won’t be the last.

If you are a retailer or foodservice provider yourself, be aware that Panera has just thrown down the gauntlet. Will you pick it up and join the fight? Will you publicly share your own list of ingredients in a very transparent way … can you? Now that one company has “shared,” we have to believe it’s going to start a wave of disclosure, either as a competitive tool or in response to public demand—or both.

What if you believe in “engineering”? You know your ingredients are beneficially engineered for health, productivity, or to feed the world in 2050. What are your options if you don’t intend to give into the pressure? You can try to fight transparency with transparency focused on science and communication. Consumers want to know what is in their food, and they have a right to know. They also have a right to understand what is in their food and why, but it is up to industry to be communicating that. But, and it is a huge but, there are many consumer organizations that strive to keep the general consumer off balance and continuing to not trust what the science is telling us. Those battles are very hard to fight let alone win. As soon as the food industry points out that “ingredients” are safe and approved for use, the consumer reaction is one of lack of trust.

Just as we are beginning to see global food safety standards being set (e.g., GFSI, FSMA, etc.), manufacturers and suppliers are being handed a whole new array of “clean” requirements (bringing new audits?) that varies from customer to customer. This adds to the complexity of food production. And if we are not careful, these changes will introduce risks to the food. As we use less preservatives and salt, the obvious concern is that the microbes will simply move in and grow.

Does it ever end? Not if you consider the implications of a comment by Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in a USA Today article that a greater nutritional problem with Panera’s menu items are their high-calorie counts, “wide use of white flour and excessive use of sugar.” Even if the additive-GMO-artificial ingredient issue gets solved or blows over, there will always be a new health-nutrition-safety-quality-trending issue or fad developing just over the horizon.

It seems you can’t win for losing, so your best bet is to do what you believe is best for your customer and your business, communicate what and why you do what you do, be as transparent as is practical, and keep an eye on the horizon for the next wave. Panera has done this; it has put its flag in the sand in order to enhance its brand and its business. There will be some in the food industry that look at these changes as a threat or a mistake. However, the reality is that it is the way of the future. Food companies make money by selling food, and consumers are the ones that ultimately put the money in the system that keeps it all going. So ignore consumers at your peril, but a huge challenge for much of the industry is that, at the retail and food service end it is easy to make quick changes – but in the manufacturing end it is often neither easy nor fast, and it will be costly.

USDA Approves Browning-Resistant GM Apples

The agency has described that the GE apples are “unlikely to pose a plant pest risk to agriculture and other plants in the United States and that “deregulation is not likely to have a significant impact on the human environment.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided to approve new types of apples that have been genetically modified to not brown soon after after being cut. The company that has developed the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden varieties – Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. – is currently engaging in a voluntary food safety assessment consultation with the Food and Drug Administration regarding the varieties.

According to USDA, the decision to deregulate the apples and allow them to be commercially planted after assessments showed that “the GE apples are unlikely to pose a plant pest risk to agriculture and other plants in the United States” and that “deregulation is not likely to have a significant impact on the human environment.”

According to the company, Arctic apples will age, turn brown and rot like any other fruit, but produce less of the substance that causes browning. So when the apples are sliced or bruised, the fruit’s flesh retains its original color longer instead of turning brown.

Consumer groups opposed to genetically modified foods have indicated their disapproval of USDA’s decision. “Pre-sliced apples are a frequently recalled food product,” noted the Center for Food Safety. “Once the whole fruit is sliced, it has an increased risk of exposure to pathogens. Since browning is a sign that apples are no longer fresh, ‘masking’ this natural signal could lead people to consume contaminated apples.”

These groups are also concerned about the lack of standardized labeling for genetically modified crops and their processed forms. The Environmental Working Groups said that the approval of Arctic apples “underscores the need for a transparent and consistent national labeling standard.”

USDA’s announcement came the day after Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) reintroduced legislation to label genetically engineered food.

Ravi Ramadhar, Food Safety Business Director for Life Sciences Solutions, Thermo Fisher Scientific
In the Food Lab

Molecular Diagnostics – Generation 3: 2005 to Present

By Ravi Ramadhar
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Ravi Ramadhar, Food Safety Business Director for Life Sciences Solutions, Thermo Fisher Scientific

In my previous blog, I covered the first two generations of Molecular Diagnostics: Generation one, was the advent of these tests prior to 1995, while the second generation saw the evolution of molecular diagnostics with the emergence of standardized food molecular and method workflow.

The advent of automated DNA sequencing and use of multiple fluorescent dyes by companies like Applied Biosystems and Roche led to the development of multiple fluorescent dyes and real- time quantitative PCR systems (qPCR). At first these qPCR systems were only used in the research environment, but quickly found their way to the food industry.

Applications such as quantitation of GMOs and multiple pathogen targets became common. Real-time PCR systems permitted users to visualize amplification as it happened and enabled simultaneous detection of multiple targets. With the use of newer chemistries and improved enzymes, shorter amplification cycles – sometimes as low as 40 minutes – could be achieved. The real-time systems offered faster time-to-result with additional target probes and thus higher target specificity. As with most molecular methods, the workflow was sensitive to food matrix inhibition and required alternative sample preparation methods to meet the wide variety of food matrixes.

Within this generation of solutions, alternatives were introduced, that promised faster, easier or more sensitive results. These included alternative to either the detection method or enzymes utilized Iisothermal amplification, for example without need for multiplexing capability of qPCR or internal controls, as well as targeting alternative nucleic acid such as RNA were introduced to the food market. These incremental improvements did not lead to any significant new paradigms or improvements to the food testing workflow. Their emergence instead led to an explosion of additional and alternative molecular platforms for food, without any real innovation. Within this, solutions introduced to the food industry eventually brought us to where we are today.

Directly taking systems from the clinical diagnostics workflow and introducing these platforms and systems as food solutions. While these systems automate the entire workflow or automate the PCR setup it remains to be seen if with their higher complexity and high maintenance these systems can survive the food industry. The basic molecular workflow for food has remained intact since its introduction in the late 1990s with innovation more or less stagnant. What’s needed is for someone to truly develop a platform from the ground up with the food laboratory in mind.

Today’s landscape and what’s next

Today, there are some early signals of where innovations and changes for food labs will emerge. A recent poster by Nestle, for example, highlighted the uses of next-generation sequencing (NGS) and DNA sequencing to develop a DNA method to allow the identification of coffee varieties through the value chain, from the field to the finished product. The method is applied on routine basis to guarantee the purity and authenticity of raw material used by Nespresso.

Applications of NGS in outbreak response and trace back investigations are being used in parallel with existing technologies. Finally, availability of new sequencing data enables better assay design and development of adjacent technologies.

NGS was preceded by emulsion amplification and sequencing by synthesis. These developments led to the development and introduction of digital PCR. Within a digital PCR reaction, millions of simultaneous reactions from one sample occur. The advantages of dPCR include lower and absolute, not relative gene copy number. The data has high precision and has better tolerance to inhibitors. These characteristics can lead to better and more precise molecular tests in food. , Before dPCR wide spread adoption is seen, however, the limitations of high cost and limited dynamic range must be addressed.

It’s not only in the testing labs and adjacent technologies that NGS is having an impact. In the labs driving innovation in food and food ingredient development, applications of NGS are being used to develop targeted food ingredients.

Nestle is the leader in this convergence of food, health and nutrition and over the last three years, the company has acquired and formed partnerships targeting the space. In its formation of the Nestle Institute of Health Sciences, Emmanuel Baetge, head of NHIS, emphasized NHIS expertise and research capabilities using systems biology, next generation sequencing, and human genetics.

The world of food safety is as dynamic as the natural flora of food itself. Changing regulations, evolving organisms, technological change and consumers’ changing tastes require new solutions. The requirements of the food laboratory have not changed. They are the protectors of brands and the teams we trust to deliver safe and quality foods. However, how they do that has and will continue to change.

Next time… molecular serotyping.

References:

  1. Wetterstrand KA. DNA Sequencing Costs: Data from the NHGRI Genome Sequencing Program (GSP) Available at: www.genome.gov/sequencingcosts. Accessed 1/13/2014 [DOA 1/13/12014].
  2. Beilei Ge and Jianghong Meng , 2009 14: 235 Advanced Technologies for Pathogen and Toxin Detection in Foods: Current Applications and Future Journal of Laboratory Automation DOI: 10.1016/j.jala.2008.12.012.
  3. Morisset D, Sˇ tebih D, Milavec M, Gruden K, Zˇ el J (2013) Quantitative Analysis of Food and Feed Samples with Droplet Digital PCR. PLoS ONE 8(5):e62583. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062583.
  4. http://www.nestle-nespresso.com/asset-libraries/Related%20documents%20not%20indexed/Nespresso%20poster%20ASIC2012%20DNA%20traceability.pdf