For years, the biotech industry has been able to rely on the fact that America remains one of the few industrialised countries whose regulators haven't demanded clear labelling of GM foods.
Big Food has been happy to hide behind this and ignore consumer concerns.
But, as consumer frustration mounts over the denial of their right to know what they're eating, things are starting to change.
In August 2016, President Obama signed into law the 'Biotech Labeling Solutions Act'. This mandates disclosure of GM ingredients, and was celebrated by many food industry groups as a flexible and non-invasive solution to GMO labelling.
It's "flexible" because it allows various options: large- and medium-size companies may use on-package text, an on-package symbol, or an on-package digital code which directs customers on-line; small companies may label their products with a 'phone number or website; and very small companies will be exempt from the labelling requirement entirely.
It's "non-invasive" because no one has to put the dreaded words 'GMO' on their products. It's so non-invasive in fact that the Center for Food Safety has dubbed it the 'non-labelling bill', and US Right to Know has described it as "a sweetheart deal for the food and agricultural industries who want to keep the consumers guessing about the contents of their food.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has two years to hammer out the details of how exactly the Biotech Labeling Solutions Act can be made to work, and is to carry out a survey of the real-life availability of the scanning devices and Internet access essential for the use of the digital codes.
This particular 'solution' to the current lack of GM food labelling in America clearly isn't going to solve consumer frustration: the information thay want on the package isn't likely to be there. However, another food labelling solution is fast emerging which will.
A growing number of big players in the US food market are offering certificated labelled non-GM products. This is hardly surprising because recognising a growing market trend is what successful businesses do. As one outspoken farmer, whose No.1 marketing rule is "do not go to war with your customers", commented giving the customer what they want "is a no-brainer".
Recognising this market opportunity, grain processing giant, Cargill, has announced two new major commitments to the supply of non-GM foodstuffs.
The first was a four-fold expansion of non-GM ingredients verified by the Non-GMO Project. Most of its new non-GM products are derived from the "high risk crops", corn and soya. Cargill's reason was pragmatic, "the Non-GMO Project is the most requested third party certification among our food and beverage customers." In the near future, Cargill hopes to supply even more Non-GMO Project verified ingredients.
The second was Cargill's very own, trademarked, identity-preservation process, "KnownOrigins". This 'process' includes full traceability, testing to verify non-GM status, 'Good manufacturing Practices' to prevent GM/non-GM cross contamination, ingredient reviews, and "stringent raw material evaluation and approval protocols". 'KnownOrigins' the brand will give Cargill a name to talk about with its customers.
The non-GMO Project said, when some of "the largest food companies in the world are looking for non-GM ingredients ... that's really changing the supply chain".
Meanwhile, Monsanto and its henchmen are fizzing. Cargill has linked itself to the opposition, the anti-GM brigade, and has even developed its own anti-GM brand.
In what has become a recognisable and predictable pattern, the biotech lobby was quick to launch hostilities against Cargill through the media and tweets.
This is presumably, as GM Watch suggests, to make GM-free food suppliers take a step back and to warn off others who might dare to follow suit. It may also be a sign of what the Huffington Post's headline suggests, that these 'Attacks on Cargill over non-GMO moves (are) based on fear'. That's fear of that little honest label that's going to appear on foods verified GM-free, the one customers can read as they are buying, no matter how much of a hurry they're in.
Using 'information technology' to conceal information seems to be the modern version of Orwellian 'Nineteen Eighty Four' book-burning. But without the smoke.
Just keep in mind that, no matter what the biotech industry does, it's you the customer who's in control of the profits (and losses).
- Michael Crane, President Obama Signs GMO-Labeling Bill, Nutritional Outlook, 1.08.16
- Michael Crane, House Passes Senate's GMO-Labeling Bill, Nutritional Outlook, 14.07.16
- Michael Crane, New Mandatory GMO-Labeling Bill Could Move Disclaimers Online, Nutritional Outlook, 24.06.16
- Jennifer Grebow, Cargill Strengthens Non-GMO Traceability, Nutritional Outlook, 22.03.17
- Cargill strengthens North American Non-GMO offering with Identity Preservation process, more Non-GMO Project Verified ingredients, www.cargill.com, 10.03.17
- Ken Rosboro, Attacks on Cargill over non-GMO moves based on fear, Huffington Post, 25.04.17
- Cargill strengthens its non-GMO supply chain, GM Watch 26.03.17