Intense Debate Over the Safety of GMOs Continues: How Should Your Food Business Respond?

Posted: Thursday, October 12, 2017 by Global Food Safety Resource

By Susan Abel

It’s been nearly a quarter century since the debate over the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) first took centre stage, yet after years of passionate discussion, we’re still often left asking, “What’s the fuss about?” Most food scientists are familiar with every side of this debate and, in fact, it can be challenging to weed through the myriad scientific opinions on the issue. For consumers, that frustration is exacerbated by the media and social media information bombarding them daily.

Despite the plethora of evidence supporting the safety of GMOs undertaken by its own scientific community, Europe has delayed accepting this technology, and this has had consequences for Africa, a strong producer of some GMO (also known as Genetically Engineered) crops that is locked out of the European marketplace. Additionally, reluctance in accepting GE rice that is a significant source of Vitamin A may be unnecessarily prolonging a significant health risk in Asia.

Scientist is replacing part of a DNA molecule. Genetic engineering and gene manipulation concept.

There are also consequences for North America. Food manufacturers have an obligation to customers to provide them with the products they wish to purchase. The newly-minted U.S. GMO declaration will be a genuine test for both processors and consumers alike:

• Will consumers genuinely shift away from products containing GMO ingredients?
• Will food companies feel the need to be pro-active and source non-GMO ingredients?
• If all processors, or even a few major ones, shifted to non-GMO ingredients, would there be sufficient supplies to meet this sudden demand?

Just as some of the anti-GMO campaigns state that we will never be able to eradicate the presence of GMOs, it can be equally said that we will never be able to stop the spread of willful misinformation that casts doubt on new technologies. This means that food processors need to look closely at who their customers are, and what values the industry as a whole supports. For those who choose to alter their supply chains and opt for non-GMO ingredients, it’s a good idea to secure your supplies soon, as demand may make supply tight and prices high, at least in the short term.

For those who choose to stay the course, it would be wise to have a statement ready for consumer inquiries that may arrive so you can explain your company’s position. Soylent, a manufacturer of ready-to-drink meals, has made its position on GMOs publicly clear with its “Proudly made with GMOs campaign.”

Whatever path your business chooses, it would be wise to make a decision soon, given the many unknowns that continue to cloud the issue, including U.S. labelling requirements and media coverage that continues to polarize consumers over the issue.

About the Author
Susan Abel is currently the Vice President of Safety and Compliance with Food and Consumer Products of Canada where she has worked on issues including responsible chemicals management, Codex Alimentarius, food and consumer product regulations, as well as coordinating a significant research project, Mitigating Mycotoxins in the Value Chain. Prior to working for FCPC, Susan led product development, quality, and regulatory teams in industry for over twenty years.

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