Non-Organic Ingredients May Provide Pathways for GMO in Organic Foods
Many non-organic ingredients may provide a pathway for genetic contamination of organic foods. In fact, non-organic ingredients may present complex GMO challenges to organic food processors.
Controversy over the Harvey lawsuit in the United States organic community stirred a heated debate over the use of non-organic substances and ingredients in organic foods. One major issue not addressed was the fact that many non-organic ingredients provide a pathway for genetic contamination of organic foods. In fact, non-organic ingredients may present more complex GMO challenges to organic food processors than GM pollen drift and seed contamination present to organic farmers. This is the first of a two-part series.
The US National Organic Program (NOP) allows certain non-organic substances and ingredients to comprise up to 5 percent of foods labeled “Organic” and up to 30 percent of foods in the “Made with Organic” category. These substances, which number more than 50, have been approved by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).
While many non-organic ingredients on the list, such as minerals, don’t raise GMO concerns, others do. Soy- and corn-based products, such as lecithin and cornstarch, are obvious examples since soy and corn are the most common genetically modified crops.
Not so obvious are vitamins, which are becoming a concern, says Brian Baker, research director, Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). “More and more vitamins are coming from genetically modified sources.”
Vitamins E (tocopherols) and C (ascorbic acid) are the most common vitamins raising GMO concerns, since E is derived from soy and C from corn. But according to OMRI, many patents for producing vitamins from GMOs have been granted in the past 10 years. For example, drug and biotechnology companies have received patents to produce Vitamins A (betacarotene), B2 (riboflavin), and C from GM bacteria.
Evaluating GMOs in organic food processing is more complex than in organic farming says Gwendolyn Wyard, processing program reviewer, Oregon Tilth, an organic certifier. “On the farm side it’s pretty straight forward. If a farmer is buying seed, it must not be GM.” Organic certifiers may evaluate non-organic substances differently depending on whether they are agricultural or non-agricultural. For example, bleached lecithin is considered a non-agricultural substance, and one prominent organic certifier requires that it have no detectable GM DNA or proteins. Meanwhile, unbleached lecithin is considered agricultural, and the same certifier requires that it come from identity preserved, non-GM soybeans.