Monday, December 21, 2015

Authentication of GMO free foods-Newly proposed Government certification to help consumers to choose such foods

Hardly a day passes without some one in some parts of the world speaking for or against genetically modified foods and their safety. Mankind had never faced such a divisive issue when it comes to food safety and GM foods have divided the world vertically into two sides, one favoring them and the other fiercely opposing the same. While many governments have refused planting of GM crops in their respective countries, USA is one of the most ardent advocates of GM foods, its safety authorities taking the stand that GM foods are "practically same" as the natural foods and therefore do not pose any safety hazards. Flowing out of this policy decision is the remarkable growth of GM crops industry in that country where more than 80% of the foods in the market are either made from GM raw materials or contain GM ingredients. Unfortunately the confidence of the citizens on the credibility of the US government agencies in charge of food safety is rather low and this had given birth to a vigorous and sustained campaign to force the food industry to compulsorily declare the presence of GM materials in packed foods as a matter of constitutional right. The powerful GM crop industry with a vice like grip on the law makers has been able to resist any mandatory labeling provision in the statute books. Recent attempt by the government in that country to provide a mechanism for those who want to declare their foods are free from GM materials appears to be a deflective strategy to evade the responsibility of promulgating orders that will require mandatory labeling of all GM foods. Here is a take on this interesting development which may have far reaching implications in that country.

"The Agriculture Department has developed a new government certification and labeling for foods that are free of genetically modified ingredients. USDA's move comes as some consumer groups push for mandatory labeling of the genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
The certification is the first of its kind, would be voluntary — and companies would have to pay for it. If approved, the foods would be able to carry a "USDA Process Verified" label along with a claim that they are free of GMOs. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined the new certification in a May 1 letter to USDA employees, saying it was being done at the request of a "leading global company," which he did not identify. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press. A USDA spokesman confirmed that Vilsack sent the letter but declined to comment on the certification program. Vilsack said in the letter that the certification "will be announced soon, and other companies are already lining up to take advantage of this service." Companies can already put their own GMO-free labels on foods, but there are no government labels that only certify a food as GMO-free. Many companies use a private label developed by a nonprofit called the Non-GMO Project. The USDA organic label also certifies that foods are free of genetically modified ingredients, but many non-GMO foods aren't organic. Vilsack said the USDA certification is being created through the department's Agriculture Marketing Service, which works with interested companies to certify the accuracy of the claims they are making on food packages — think "humanely raised" or "no antibiotics ever." Companies pay the Agricultural Marketing Service to verify a claim, and if approved, they can market the foods with the USDA process verified label."

According to the above policy, individual manufacturers can get their claim of GM free product verified by USDA, the agency managing safety of agricultural products through a universally accepted methodology and the certificate issued will confirm their products are GMO free. While this is a welcome first step, it does not still obviates the need for declaring presence of GMO in foods that are made from such modified food materials. Probably the present attempt may be to regulate the current practices followed by some manufacturers in including on their label words like "GMO free" putting consumers in a fix as to whether it can be trusted. Though many such products declaring to be free from GMO are certified by non-government agencies, their credibility will be enhanced if such claims are verified and confirmed by government authorities. But there is a perception among impartial observers that this is a ploy by the government to hamper the enthusiasm of a major segment of the population agitating for mandatory labeling. This is confirmed by the proposals now being pursued by the federal law makers to prevent state authorities imposing regulations mandating for compulsory declaration. This raises questions regarding the role of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which is supposed to regulate packed and processed foods industry and it will be interesting to watch out how this is going to be played out. USDA certification must be accepted by FDA in the interest of the consumers and honest food manufacturers.though no one is still sure whether FDA will take a positive stand on this crucial issue. .


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