Posted on December 10, 2019 by Sustainable Food News

Non-GMO label’s effort to block new GMOs from supply chain stymied

Nonprofit behind popular butterfly label says new techniques churning out untested, unregulated new GMO products, ingredients

The Non-GMO Project (NGP) said the lack of commercially available tests and federal regulations, among other factors, is frustrating its effort to prevent new produce items, flavorings and animal proteins that are created with cutting-edge GMO techniques from entering the non-GMO supply chain.

Bellingham, Wash.-based NGP’s Product Verification Program is a third-party verification and labeling program. The nonprofit’s popular “Butterfly” seal is the fastest growing label in the natural products industry, representing more than $26 billion in annual sales, and more than 50,000 verified products under 3,000 brands.

“For the past 25 years, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been largely limited to transgenic crops and animals: organisms that have been genetically modified by combining the DNA from two or more different species,” NGP said on its website. “This is beginning to change. GMOs are now being created with newer genetic engineering techniques, some of which do not involve transgenic technologies.”

NGP said some of the “more prevalent or noteworthy” GMO techniques include:

  • CRISPR – Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats create double-strand breaks or cuts in DNA using an endonuclease (Cas9) and synthetic guide RNA.
  • TALEN – Transcription activator-like effector nucleases create double-strand breaks or cuts in DNA using engineered restriction enzymes.
  • ZFN – Zinc finger nucleases create double-strand breaks or cuts in DNA using DNA binding proteins. ZFN is older and more expensive than TALEN and CRISPR.
  • ODM – Oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis (ODM) involves the insertion of new DNA that mimics a portion of the plant’s genome and is incorporated via the cell’s own repair function.
  • RNAi – RNA interference (RNAi) is a process whereby RNA molecules inhibit gene expression via translation blocking or degradation. This prevents a specific portion of DNA from being read or degrades it so that it does not function.

“There is also some degree of confusion about whether products of new genetic engineering techniques are GMOs,” NGP said. “Some of these new GMOs have been marketed as non-GMO. To be clear, all products of new genetic engineering techniques are GMOs.”

NGP said while it continues to work hard keeping new GMOs from entering the non-GMO supply chain “[at] present, several factors are making this difficult.”

NGP said testing for GMOs depends on the commercial availability of such tests.

“There currently are no tests commercially available for new GMOs or their derivatives,” the nonprofit said. “This means that tracking them relies heavily on affidavits and other documentation rather than tests.”

NGP also said federal regulations governing GMOs “have not caught up with new GMOs.”

The federal government regulates GMOs under the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology.

“This law has not been effectively updated since 1986 and does not reflect the current state of biotechnology,” NGP said. “The more recent National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, a labeling law, does not address these new techniques.”

New products coming out of GMO arena

Many of the novel GMO products and ingredients being created by new genetic engineering techniques are still in the research and development stages, but some are commercially available now, NGP said.

“As the Non-GMO Project understands it, these commercially available new GMOs include flavorings such as vanilla, citrus and ginger, non-browning potatoes and apples, high-oleic acid soybeans, herbicide-tolerant canola, and many products of genetically engineered microbes,” the nonprofit said.

Here is a list of some of those new foods and other products from novel GMO techniques that are commercially available:

  • New crops (e.g., non-browning potato and apple, high oleic acid soy, and new herbicide-tolerant canola)
  • Animals (e.g., hornless cows)
  • Flavorings (e.g., vanilla, citrus, ginger)
  • Animal proteins identical to those found in milk and eggs
  • Heme
  • Cosmetic product inputs (e.g.,collagen)
  • Fragrances (e.g., patchouli, sandalwood, and citrus)
  • Dyes and inks
  • Leather and textiles (e.g., spider silk)
  • Opiates and cannabinoids (e.g., THC, CBD)
  • Probiotics
  • Vitamins

Check out NGP’s Understanding Biotechnology: What is a GMO? for GMO basics.

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