Full list: GMO News

USNews: GMO Labeling Law Worries Food Groups

By MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
2/4/16
Full Article

WASHINGTON (AP) — The food industry is pressuring Congress to act before the state of Vermont requires food labels for genetically modified ingredients.

At issue is how food companies will deal with Vermont’s law. They could make separate food packages just for the state, label all their items with genetically modified ingredients or withdraw from the small Vermont market. The law kicks in by July, but the companies have to start making those decisions now.

The food industry wants Congress to pre-empt Vermont’s law and bar mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods before it goes into effect. They argue that GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are safe and a patchwork of state laws isn’t practical. Labeling advocates have been fighting state-by-state to enact the labeling, with the eventual goal of a national standard.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack brought the parties together twice this month to see if they could work out a compromise. But agreement won’t be easy, as the industry staunchly opposes mandatory labels. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are divided, too, but agree that a compromise needs to be worked out before this summer.

A look at the debate as the food industry and Congress wrestle with labeling of engineered foods:

WHAT’S A GMO, ANYWAY?

Genetically modified seeds are engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, like resistance to herbicides. The majority of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. Corn and soybeans are also made into popular processed food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soybean oil.

GMOs – From a Farmer’s Perspective

The food industry says about 75 percent to 80 percent of foods contain genetically modified ingredients..

DUG IN

The food industry has been battling the labeling advocates for several years, spending millions to fight ballot initiatives and bills in state legislatures that would require labeling of genetically modified foods. They have also challenged Vermont’s law in court.

Industry-backed legislation that passed the House last year would have blocked any such state laws. But that bill has stalled in the Senate.

The Food and Drug Administration has said GMOs on the market now are safe, and the federal government does not support mandatory labels. But supporters of labeling counter that consumers have a right to know what’s in their foods, and say Congress shouldn’t be trying to pre-empt states.

So far, Vermont is the only state set to require labeling. Maine and Connecticut have passed similar laws, but those measures don’t take effect unless neighboring states follow suit.

NEW TALKS

Hours of talks with Vilsack haven’t produced compromise. The former Iowa governor hasn’t taken sides on the issue, but he has previously suggested some sort of digital labeling that consumers could access with their smart phones or in-store scanners.

Don’t Stop States From Passing GMO Labeling Laws

The food industry has had similar ideas, introducing voluntary digital labels last year that could provide consumers with detailed information about products. Information could also be accessed by an online search.

Labeling advocates have frowned on digital labels, saying they discriminate against people who don’t have smart phones, computers or the know-how to use them.

“Consumers shouldn’t have to have a high-tech smartphone and a 10-gigabyte data plan to know what’s in their food,” said Scott Faber, head of the national Just Label It Campaign, after Vilsack spoke publicly about the idea early last year.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., says he wants to take up a bill soon, before Vermont’s law goes into effect. The panel’s top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota have been working to find bipartisan compromise.

COMPANIES GO ON THEIR OWN

As Congress has stalled on the issue, some companies are already prepared to deal with the Vermont law.

Campbell Soup said earlier this month it now supports mandatory national labeling for products containing genetically modified ingredients, and that it will stop backing efforts opposing the disclosures.

The company said about three-quarters of its products contain GMOs, and released a mock-up of the label it would use to comply if Vermont’s law goes into effect. It says “Partially produced with genetic engineering” in small print at the bottom.

Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison has been outspoken about the need for big food makers to adapt to changing tastes.


VT Digger: Swarm of arguments greets pesticide ban proposal

Feb. 3, 2016
by
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Vermont beekeepers and environmental advocates say it’s time to ban a class of pesticides, called neonicotinoids, but farmers say the chemicals are important for a number of crops, such as the roughly 1 million acres of corn Vermonters grow.

The chemicals have been implicated in dramatic bee die-offs over recent decades as their use has increased.

Legislators are considering a bill that would ban neonicotinoid pesticides in Vermont.

Defenders of the pesticide say bee die-offs are the result of many factors. Industry representatives and some legislators say it’s premature to ban a useful product with fewer toxic effects than other similar chemical treatments.

A professor at the University of Vermont College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ extension espouses that view.

“My understanding is that most scientists studying bee decline have pointed out that there’s many factors involved in the decline of, certainly honeybees, and possibly native bees — such as mites, disease, nutritional deficiencies, habitat losses and certainly pesticide exposure,” Sid Bosworth, an agronomy professor at the university, told legislators Friday.

Neonicotinoids are known to cause harm to bees, he said. But it’s important to wait for results from an Environmental Protection Agency study on the chemical before instituting a ban, “in order to make rational decisions based on sound science,” Bosworth said. The EPA plans to release a preliminary risk assessment on imidacloprid, the most popular of the neonicotinoids, by the end of this year.

Some academics and activists say the EPA study will only confirm what’s widely known among researchers already.

“One thing you hear is that the jury’s still out on the relative harm to bees, but a huge amount of research shows that (neonicotinoids) cause lethal and sublethal harm to bees,” said Leif Richardson, a postdoctoral research fellow in the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics. Richardson’s area of research concerns bees, crops and the effects of chemicals on bees.

The body of data he refers to includes thousands of studies showing that neonicotinoids harm and kill bees, Richardson said.

Farmers use neonicotinoids because they very effectively kill insects, and there’s no question the chemicals kill bees, Richardson said.

Even in doses that aren’t enough to kill, neonicotinoids disorient bees, cause changes in their foraging habits, depress their reproductive rates, reduce their overall fitness and diminish the populations of their colonies, he said.

Sublethal doses also decrease bees’ resistance to other harms, such as mites and disease, Richardson said.

Laying blame

That weakening effect is a flaw in the reasoning that a number of causes are associated with bee declines, some say.

Ross Conrad, former president of the Vermont Beekeepers Association and owner of the Middlebury-based honey operation Dancing Bee Gardens, said he’s heard the entire line of argument before, from defenders of the tobacco industry.

“Most beekeepers, especially the larger ones, consider (neonicotinoids) an issue,” Conrad said.

Chemical industry representatives invest a great deal of effort convincing the public that numerous causes, including mites and diseases, contribute to widespread bee die-offs, Conrad said.

“That’s a classic Big Tobacco tactic, to dilute the blame and point the finger elsewhere,” he said.

Lawmakers should approach the problem holistically, Carsten said, and recognize the numerous causes of bee declines, instead of focusing on a single contributor to the problem.

A similar sentiment came from the chair of the House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products, whose panel is exploring forming a committee to study the effects of neonicotinoids.

Neonicotinoids are perhaps part of the problem, said Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, but so are a number of other factors, including loss of habitat and diminished forage opportunities.

For instance, Partridge said, farmers used to cut hay twice in a season, and between cuts the hay would flower, allowing bees and other pollinators to forage. Today, farmers cut hay four or five times in a season, and since this schedule doesn’t permit hay to flower, pollinators suffer, she said.

Partridge said a ban is out of the question.

Legislators need to “evaluate all the issues affecting bees” before making any such decisions, she said.

What alternatives?

Legislators must also consider what alternatives to neonicotinoids exist, because farmers will need to resort to something else if Vermont bans the chemical, Partridge said. That “something” could be older types of pesticides that were much more harmful to mammals, she said.

Bosworth told legislators that the older pesticides, called organophosphates, were applied manually and damaged all sorts of fauna that encountered the airborne poison, including the laborers who applied them.

Neonicotinoids, by contrast, come in the form of pretreated seeds, which draw the poison into the growing plants without dispersing it through the air, he said.

They do emit poisonous dust when they’re planted, and the plants themselves remain poisonous to invertebrates throughout their lives, but pretreated seeds contain that poison to a far greater degree than did previous treatments, he said.

Neonicotinoids are the only pesticide approved for pretreating seeds, Carsten said. They’re used to kill pests such as wire worms, seedcorn maggots, white grubs and black cutworms, all of which live in the soil, eat germinating seeds and are hard to spot and difficult to predict, she said. That makes a prophylactic pesticide such as neonicotinoids especially useful, she said.

But their prophylactic application may be unnecessary, legislators heard Friday.

Although 98 percent of corn sold in the United States is pretreated with neonicotinoids, studies have shown the treatment is unnecessary around 80 percent of the time, Peter Jenkins, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety, told lawmakers Friday in the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“It’s kind of like taking antibiotics every day to make sure you don’t get an infection: It doesn’t make sense,” Jenkins said later.

Crop yields haven’t suffered where these chemicals have been restricted, Jenkins said. That includes the European Union, where 27 countries have instituted a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids, he said.

In fact, he said, the EPA conducted an analysis on soybean production and found that, on the whole, the pesticides’ use on that crop in the United States wasn’t producing any economic benefit to farmers.
Seeking seeds

Given the ubiquity of pretreated seeds today, Vermont farmers could suffer if they were required to find untreated seeds, several legislators said.

Partridge said a ban would be problematic for farmers for that reason. Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, the vice chair of the Agriculture Committee, said he’s wary of a ban for the same reason.

Carsten said untreated seeds are considered a specialty item in the seed industry. Other seed company representatives said told legislators their companies don’t even stock untreated seeds except in their lines of organic products.

Untreated seeds won’t necessarily cost more, but they’ll need to be ordered earlier in the year to ensure availability, Carsten told the Agriculture Committee.

Zuckerman said that could hurt farmers, who would need to plan and pony up the money in advance.

But current practices with neonicotinoids simply shift the cost elsewhere, said Conrad, the honey purveyor.

Beekeepers are experiencing ever-increasing rates of loss among their colonies, he said. Decades ago, bee losses of 3 percent to 5 percent a year were common, he said. In the 1990s, it became normal for beekeepers to lose 10 percent to 20 percent of a hive each year. Since 2006, around the time pretreated seeds became common, beekeepers frequently experience losses on the order of 30 percent to 40 percent, he said.

“The bottom line is, beekeepers are basically subsidizing the chemical industry, because we’re taking the hit for the substances they’re using,” he said.


Agri-Pulse: Sanders, five Dem colleagues question GMA on SmartLabel initiative

By Stephen Davies
1/22/16
Full Article

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2016 – Six senators have asked the Grocery Manufacturers Association to explain how shoppers without smartphones will be able to use the so-called SmartLabel initiative GMA has proposed to get information about the food they’re buying.

Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy from Connecticut, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Jon Tester of Montana, along with Independent Bernie Sanders, the Vermonter who’s running for president as a Democrat, sent a letter on Thursday with the request to GMA President and CEO Pamela Bailey. They asked for a response by Feb. 17.

GMA said it’s working on a response.

The letter comes as groups representing different views on GMO labeling are talking about a compromise in meetings hosted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has backed something similar to the SmartLabel. The progress of the negotiations, if they can be called that, has thus far been as secretive as is possible in Washington, D.C.

In their letter, the senators said many consumers won’t be able to use the plan (which would be voluntary on the part of manufacturers) either because they don’t have smartphones or because their smartphones aren’t properly equipped to scan the barcode or QR code.

“According to the Pew Research Center, only 68 percent of American adults own a smartphone – many of which do not necessarily subscribe to mobile broadband,” the senators said. “How will GMA ensure that consumers who don’t have smartphones – typically lower income, less educated, or elderly individuals – are able to access important food labeling information while they are shopping in the grocery store aisles? How will GMA make these shoppers aware of the SmartLabel initiative? How will you measure the efficacy or consumer use of this initiative and will such reporting be made publicly available?”

The lawmakers also raised privacy concerns. Many consumers “are worried about how this initiative will affect their privacy. What promises will manufacturers participating in the SmartLabel initiative make to consumers to assure their privacy and that their information will not be used or sold?”

“Lastly, we are concerned that the SmartLabel initiative faces many technical hurdles that will affect consumer access to critical information that they will not have access to by simply reading a product’s label,” they said. “Different smartphone models vary greatly in their ability to quickly and easily scan QR codes.”

In a Dec. 2 press release, when GMA announced the initiative, the association said, “A number of retailers have said that they can help shoppers without smartphones via their customer service desk in stores. In addition, both online and brick and mortar stores are exploring ways to make SmartLabel more accessible to their customers such as by posting the SmartLabel link on their page to allow access in one click or through customer service desks.”

A few days later, Jim Flannery, GMA’s senior executive vice president for operations and industry collaboration, wrote, “If I have no access to the Internet, I’ll bet the store where I’m shopping does or can access the information.


Marketplace: Why Campbell changed its mind on GMO labeling


Mother Jones: The EPA Finally Admitted That the World’s Most Popular Pesticide Kills Bees—20 Years Too Late

Bees are dying in record numbers—and now the government admits that an extremely common pesticide is at least partially to blame.

For more than a decade, the Environmental Protection Agency has been under pressure from environmentalists and beekeepers to reconsider its approval of a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, based on a mounting body of research suggesting they harm bees and other pollinators at tiny doses. In a report released Wednesday, the EPA basically conceded the case.

Marketed by European chemical giants Syngenta and Bayer, neonics are the most widely used insecticides both in the United States and globally. In 2009, the agency commenced a long, slow process of reassessing them—not as a class, but rather one by one (there are five altogether). Meanwhile, tens of millions of acres of farmland are treated with neonics each year, and the health of US honeybee hives continues to be dismal.

The EPA’s long-awaited assessment focused on how one of the most prominent neonics—Bayer’s imidacloprid—affects bees. The report card was so dire that the EPA “could potentially take action” to “restrict or limit the use” of the chemical by the end of this year, an agency spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement.

Reviewing dozens of studies from independent and industry-funded researchers, the EPA’s risk-assessment team established that when bees encounter imidacloprid at levels above 25 parts per billion—a common level for neonics in farm fields—they suffer harm. “These effects include decreases in pollinators as well as less honey produced,” the EPA’s press release states.

The crops most likely to expose honeybees to harmful levels of imidacloprid are cotton and citrus, while “corn and leafy vegetables either do not produce nectar or have residues below the EPA identified level.” Note in the below USGS chart  that a substantial amount of imidacloprid goes into the US cotton crop.

Meanwhile, the fact that the EPA says imidacloprid-treated corn likely doesn’t harm bees sounds comforting, but as the same USGS chart shows, corn gets little or no imidacloprid. (It gets huge amounts of another neonic, clothianidin, whose EPA risk assessment hasn’t been released yet.)

The agency still has to consider public comments on the bee assessment it just released, and it also has to complete a risk assessment of imidacloprid’s effect on other species. In addition to their impact on bees, neonic pesticides may also harm birds, butterflies, and water-borne invertebrates, recent studies suggest. Then there are the assessments of the other four neonic products that need to be done. Meanwhile, a coalition of beekeepers and environmental groups filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday pointing out that the agency has never properly assessed neonics in their most widely used form: as seed coatings, which are then taken up by crops.


Sustainable Pulse: Monsanto Cuts 16% of Work Force as Sales in Roundup Herbicide Fall 34%

1/7/16
Full Article

Monsanto announced Wednesday that sales in the company’s agricultural productivity segment, which includes its probable carcinogen Roundup herbicide, fell 34 % to $820 million. Monsanto’s shares fell over 2% as a result.

The Biotech giant also said Wednesday that it now plans to cut a total of 3600 jobs, or about 16 % of its global work force, through fiscal 2018, and expects to record $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion in restructuring charges.

Monsanto has been struggling for investor confidence following the announcement in March 2015 that the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency had declared the world’s most widely used weedkiller – glyphosate – a “probable human carcinogen”.

Glyphosate is the base of Monsanto’s whole business model;

a) the glyphosate-based herbicide ‘Roundup’ is Monsanto’s leading product.

b) Roundup is the herbicide that the majority of Monsanto’s GM crops are designed to be grown with.

Monsanto stated; “Net sales for the quarter decreased over the prior year’s first quarter to $2.2 billion. Gross profit on an as-reported basis for the 2016 first quarter also decreased over the prior year period to $901 million. As expected, the decline in the quarter is due to weaker foreign currencies, glyphosate pricing and lower corn volumes in Latin America.

With the anticipated continuation of several global and industry headwinds that include the recent currency devaluation in Argentina, Monsanto expects full-year ongoing EPS guidance to be at the lower half of the range of $5.10 to $5.60.”


Star Tribune: Hershey dumps sugar beets because of GM concerns


Washington Post: FDA must develop plan to label genetically engineered salmon, Congress says


December 17, 2015
Full Article

The sprawling federal spending bill unveiled this week on Capitol Hill included a small passage with potentially big implications in the food world.

In two paragraphs on page 106, lawmakers instructed the Food and Drug Administration to forbid the sale of genetically engineered salmon until the agency puts in place labeling guidelines and “a program to disclose to consumers” whether a fish has been genetically altered. The language comes just a month after FDA made salmon the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption and represents a victory for advocates who have long opposed such foods from reaching Americans’ dinner plates. At the very least, they say, consumers ought to know what they are buying.

The fish in the spotlight is the AquAdvantage salmon, produced by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty. The Atlantic salmon contains a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon and a gene from the ocean pout — a combination to help it grow large enough for consumption in 18 months instead of the typical three years.

Activists and commercial fishermen have raised concerns about whether the fish is safe to eat and whether potential environmental harms could unfold if any of AquaBounty’s salmon ever made their way into ocean waters and mated with wild salmon. The company has argued that its fish, which are all female, sterile and raised in land-locked facilities, actually could reduce pressure on wild stocks and prevent the over-fishing of Atlantic salmon. FDA has said its approval was “based on sound science and a comprehensive review” and that regulators are confident the genetically altered fish is safe to eat.

The agency said last month it could require additional labeling of genetically engineered foods only if “there is a material difference — such as a different nutritional profile” between the genetically engineered food and its natural counterpart. In the case of the AquaAdvantage salmon, FDA found no such differences.

But the language in the federal spending bill, which is expected to soon pass Congress, directs FDA to prevent the AquaBounty salmon from reaching the U.S. market until regulators finalize labeling guidelines. It also directs them to spend “not less than $150,000” undertaking the effort.

“There’s a question as to whether this fish should even be called a salmon,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who pushed for the additional language. “The FDA made no mandatory labeling requirement. Instead, they said it could be labeled voluntarily. But no manufacturer of a ‘Frankenfish’ is going to label it as such. … At least now people will have the opportunity, the chance, to know what it is that they are purchasing.”

Lisa Archer, director of the food and technology program at the Friends of the Earth, said the advocacy group would continue to keep pressing to have labels on all genetically modified foods, but the salmon provision was a good start. “The vast majority of people want GMO labeling, and Friends of the Earth and our allies will continue to fight for our basic right to know what we are feeding our families,” she said in a statement.

Despite the language in this week’s federal spending bill, it remains unclear when and where genetically modified salmon might show up for sale.

Knowing FDA likely would approve the AquaBounty salmon, consumer and environmental activists have in recent years convinced some of the country’s largest retailers not to stock it. Chains such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Costco and Target have said they will not sell the controversial fish.


Times Union: Vermont GMO labeling law survives congressional challenge

December 20, 2015
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont appears to have dodged a bullet, at least for now, after Congress declined to invalidate a state law that aims to require labeling of genetically modified foods a little more than six months from now.

A federal court challenge still seeks to block Vermont’s law from taking effect July 1.

But a push in Congress to block states from passing such labeling laws appears to have fallen by the wayside. The House passed a bill in July that would have pre-empted states’ authority over the issue. The Senate declined to take it up, despite heavy lobbying from the food and biotechnology industries.


Packaging Digest: FDA denies petition for GMO labeling

By George Misko
January 04, 2016
Full Article

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently took two actions regarding the hotly contested issue of labeling of foods and ingredients containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

1. On Nov. 19, 2015, FDA formally denied a 2012 Citizen Petition filed by the Center for Food Safety. Explaining, the Agency stated that the petition “does not provide evidence sufficient to show that foods derived from genetically engineered plants, as a class, differ from food derived from non-GE plant varieties in any meaningful or uniform way, or that as a class, such food present any different or greater safety concerns than food developed by traditional plant breeding.”

2. Also on Nov. 19, FDA issued a guidance on voluntary labeling of foods derived from Genetically Engineered Plants. In the guidance, FDA recommends the use of terms, such as “not genetically engineered,” “not bioengineered” and “not genetically modified through the use of modern biotechnology,” and discourages the use of the term “genetically modified organism,” as well as the abbreviation “GMO” as most foods do not contain entire organisms. FDA did clarify, though, that it does not intend to take enforcement action against a label using the acronym “GMO.”

The Guidance cautions against the use of the term “free” or similar terms, such as “does not contain GMOs” or “non-GMO,” due to the difficulty of substantiating such a claim. Although, FDA did not indicate whether it intends to exercise enforcement discretion with respect to “free” claims.

The Agency further explained that “a statement may be false or misleading if, when considered in the context of the entire label or labeling, it suggests or implies that a food product or ingredient is safer, more nutritious, or otherwise has different attributes than other comparable foods because the food was not genetically engineered.”

Finally, FDA alerted manufacturers that genetically engineered crops with characteristics that are materially different from those of comparable foods would require labeling under existing provision to disclose such material difference.

While federal regulations do not require special labeling for bioengineered foods, some 80 bills were introduced in state legislatures that would require special labeling. And one law, in Vermont, is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2016. The Grocery Manufacturers Assn. (GMA) and others filed a lawsuit following passage of the bill some 18 months ago, challenging Vermont’ labeling mandate. Litigation in that case is ongoing.

Another possible avenue to prevent Vermont’s GM labeling law from going into effect is federal legislation. That attempt failed in 2015 when the U.S. Senate failed to act on legislation, even though the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, which would have preempted state and local governments from mandating GM labeling. An attempt to include a preemption provision in the year-end Omnibus Appropriations bill also failed. In a release about the Dec. 4 letter, the International Dairy Food Assn. pointed out that approximately 80 GMO labeling bills were introduced in 20 states during 2015.

As noted by Daryl Thomas, svp of sales and marketing, Herr Foods Inc., at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on biotechnology earlier this year:  “Absent immediate action by Congress to create a federal GMO solution, manufacturers will have essentially three options in order to comply with a state labeling law such as Vermont’s Act 120: (1) order new packaging for products going to each individual state with a labeling law, (2) reformulate products so that no labeling is required or (3) halt sales to those states with mandatory labeling laws.”